United States Office of Government Ethics, Preventing Conflicts of Interest in the Executive Branch

Volunteering & Other Unpaid Activities
February 25, 2016

Volunteering and other unpaid activities include, but are not limited to, providing services for non-profit charitable, religious, professional, social, fraternal, educational, recreational, public service and civic organizations on your own time. Employees should be aware that volunteering and unpaid activities also include providing unpaid personal services such as acting as an officer, director, employee, agent, attorney, consultant, contractor, general partner, trustee, teacher, or speaker on your own time.


There are a number of considerations for the Government employee to think about prior to volunteering or participating in unpaid activities performed on their own time, such as:

  • The employee may only use Government equipment or property for authorized purposes.
  • The employee may only use official time to perform official duties.
  • An agency may require that the employee meet with an ethics official before volunteering.
  • There are restrictions on appearing before a Government agency or employee on behalf of an entity for which the employee is volunteering.
  • There are restrictions on working on a matter in your Government job involving the entity for which you are volunteering.

Example: Sarah, an executive branch employee, shared with fellow employees her desire to organize a trip to the local food bank to serve a meal to people in need. Sarah spent time organizing details with the local food bank for several fellow employees to serve food for a day.

This would be permissible if, prior to organizing the outing, Sarah confirmed that her agency had a policy or regulation on volunteering and then followed the steps outlined in that policy or regulation. If an agency does not have a policy, or the employee has further questions, an employee should speak with her supervisor and her ethics official. In Sarah's situation, consistent with her agency's policy, she did not use official time or Government equipment to organize the event, she did not coerce co-workers' participation, and all employees asked for and received annual leave while participating. These are the same steps that Sarah should have followed to volunteer as an unpaid member of the Board of Directors for the food bank.

The information on this page is not a substitute for individual advice. Agency ethics officials should be consulted about specific situations.