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What’s our Code of Good Practice all about? Hit play on our video below and scroll down for more detailed info.


The Comhlámh Code of Good Practice (CoGP) for Volunteer Sending Agencies is a set of standards for organisations involved in facilitating international volunteer placements in developing countries.


The focus is to ensure overseas  volunteering has a positive impact for the three main stakeholders: the local project and community, the volunteer and the sending agency.


Additionally, it reflects a number of core values.


These are: partnership, quality, security, encouraging appropriate volunteer attitudes, valuing volunteering, sustainability, development education, solidarity, and the importance of contributing to development.


The Code of Good Practice (CoGP) has been developed in close consultation with  Irish volunteer sending agencies (VSAs), returned volunteers and with a range of partners that host international volunteers and outlines 11 principles of good practice in international volunteering supported by 45 indicators evident within the volunteer sending agencies programmes. 


The CoGP practice has been completely revised for 2015.  This revision process was a collaborative effort by over forty Irish development organisations. These organisations put their own best practice guidelines under review in an attempt to ensure that the values underpinning the European Year for Development are translated into policy.  This process significantly contributes to ensuring that the almost 2000 volunteers leaving Ireland for the Global South each year are volunteering in projects that are ethically based and make a real positive difference to the host communities.


The 2015 revised Code of Good Practice includes a number of important developments. The main changes that emerged from this revision process included a reorganisation of the principles of good practice into a lifecycle reflecting the volunteering process and a greater focus on the importance of development education and continuous engagement.  The revised CoGP recognises the importance of the diversity of volunteers and how this diversity can add to volunteer programmes and projects.


Signatories to the CoGP have committed to developing their volunteer programmes in line with the 11 principles and are regularly assessed in line with the 45 indicators.  Volunteers participating in programmes promoted by CoGP signatory organisations can expect that the programmes are designed and delivered in keeping with the principles and indicators of the code.  A new set of standards have been developed as a result of the review process. Two award standards have been decided upon, core indicator status and comprehensive compliance.


These standards have been introduced to incentivise volunteer sending agencies to actively implement the indicators outlined within the Code.  Comhlámh CoGP signatory organisation will display the CoGP logo on their website, social media and promotional materials and invite feedback from participants and potential volunteers on their implementation of the CoGP. 


Comhlámh is also working with a number of organisations that do not actually send volunteers overseas, but share our values relating to international development and wish to promote best practice both for the volunteer and the partner community in the global south.  These “supporter organisations” will also display the CoGP branding on their websites and other materials.

We welcome feedback on the CoGP please contact us for more information.




Take a look at our signatory resources here.


 What is Comhlámh’s history with good practice standards in volunteering abroad?

As the Irish Association of Development Workers and Volunteers, Comhlámh has a long history of working with and supporting volunteers and development workers in Ireland. Comhlámh’s Options and Issues in Volunteering for Development group undertook significant work from the mid-1990s until 2004. It questioned the changing role of the development worker and volunteer within wider debates on aid and development.


The group produced a discussion paper entitled Role of the Development Worker in Relation to the Host Community (1995/6)  which culminated in a video We Still Want You But… (1997). A series of training workshops were developed to encourage members of the public to critically reflect on the role of the development worker and volunteer; these workshops have been a platform for ongoing discussion in this area. The closure in the early 2000s of the Agency for Personal Service Overseas (APSO), the Irish government funded volunteer programme, signaled a shift away from sending large numbers of expatriates to work in developing countries towards placing greater emphasis on working with partners. Furthermore, with an increase in public interest in volunteering overseas on a short-term basis, the role of the volunteer began to change. This led to the emergence of many new VSAs from 2000, while other more established organisations focused on adapting their programmes to respond to this change in demand.


The result was a very diverse sector—including short and long term placement organisations, professional and non-professional, for-profit and not-for profit, lay and religious—focusing on different areas of development. Comhlámh noted that in such a rapidly changing milieu the basic core issues of development (and the needs of the local community and volunteer) can sometimes be eclipsed by more pressing organisational needs. In what was (and still is in many countries) a largely unregulated sector, Comhlámh recognised the opportunity to focus on these issues. It encouraged Irish volunteer VSAs to work in a collaborative environment to examine current practice and construct a coherent set of principles that would create a shared vision for good practice and accountability in volunteer programming.


Through working collaboratively with Irish VSAs, volunteers and representatives of local projects, Comhlámh developed a Code of Good Practice which is now recognised internationally and has been adapted for use in other countries.


 Who can use the Code of Good Practice?

The CoGP can be used as a tool by any organisation or group sending volunteers overseas in a development context, whether small or large, for-profit or not-for-profit, faith-based or secular. The CoGP principles and indicators have been designed to accommodate a broad range of programme types including organisations targeting volunteers participating in short-term non-professional placements, or long-term highly-skilled placements. Signing up to the CoGP and participating in the formal monitoring and validation processes is only open to organisations that:

  • Have an international volunteer programme in place;
  • Are legally registered as either a company or charity in

Ireland or Northern Ireland for over a year;

  • Have had a volunteer programme operating for a minimum of a year;
  • Include a development impact / awareness focus to its programme;
  • Commit to working towards the principles outlined in the CoGP;
  • Complete and submit the self-audit tool to Comhlámh annually;
  • Attend at least one of two peer support meetings annually in the spirit of shared learning;
  • Complete and submit the CoGP self-audit prior to being reviewed for consideration as full CoGP signatory member;
  • Complete and submit a Code of Good Practice self-audit prior to being reviewed for consideration as full CoGP signatory member;
  • Actively work towards implementing the core standards outlined within the self-audit;
  • Participate in an external audit in the first year of becoming a signatory and participate in other auditing processes periodically thereafter;
  • Inform all persons within the organisation—including new members of staff—of its status as a signatory and ensure that all individuals understand and support the decision to be a signatory to the CoGP;
  • Inform all members of staff about the responsibilities and obligations of being a signatory to the CoGP.

 How was the Code of Good Practice developed?

The CoGP has been developed in close consultation with Irish VSAs, returned volunteers and through engagement with partners that host international volunteers. The process of jointly developing the principles began in 2005, indicators were formulated through a series of consultative workshops in 2006, and a self-audit tool was developed in 2007. In 2008, external auditing of the CoGP implementation was introduced to enable VSAs to have an independent view of the strengths and weaknesses of their programmes. Additional supports were established to improve work practices and exchange of information between signatories of the CoGP. This includes a peer support mechanism which was developed to encourage VSAs to share good practice with one another and a Volunteering Options Working Group (VOWG) which convenes twice annually to guide the development of the CoGP. In 2012 core standards were introduced to ensure that all signatories of the CoGP are able to demonstrate a minimum duty of care to volunteers and the communities with which they work. This is a pilot process which has been reviewed in 2013 and continues to be refined. In 2014 signatories will be rated according to whether they meet the core standards; those that have attained the core standards will publicly be recognised for doing so.

 What are the benefits of implementing the Code of Good Practice?

  • Better experience and quality of programme for volunteers;
  • Local partners are actively involved at each stage of the volunteer cycle. This enables volunteer programmes to remain well-informed about local development and improves the overall impact of the programmes on local partners and their communities;
  • Greater credibility and legitimacy with funders, potential volunteers and the public;
  • Sharing of experiences and accessing support from other sending agencies through the peer support system and other Comhlámh supports;
  • Sending agencies refine their work practices, develop effective management styles, learn how to use resources meaningfully and improve their programmes through continuous analysis; this ensures that all participants’ needs are appropriately addressed.

 What are the steps for becoming a signatory to the Code of Good Practice?

Signatories to the Code of Good Practice have agreed to the following steps:  


Step 1: Signing up a) Meet with Comhlámh staff to discuss information about your organisation’s volunteer programmes b) Complete a Pre-signatory Form attaching proof of registration as a company or charity c) complete a Volunteer Sending Agency Information Form, and d)  Submit a completed self-audit by 2 December. All signatory forms can be obtained from, and returned to, Shannette (


Step 2: Annual Self-audits: Signatory organisations are required to submit a completed self-audit on an annual basis (by 1st December in 2014). This self-audit should include a point-in-time assessment of the VSA’s implementation of the standards and outline areas to strengthen and improve within the coming year. Comhlámh will review the completed self-audits annually, record whether a signatory complies with the core standards and will draw a comparison with the previous year’s submission to ensure continuous programme improvements. Submitting the self-audit on an annual basis allows your organisation to monitor growth and assess the implementation of the Code of Good Practice.


Step 3: Peer Support: Active participation by VSAs in a peer support network is a key element of implementing the CoGP. Peer support meetings are held at least twice a year to facilitate sharing of information and exchange of ideas. Issues-based meetings are also held on an ad hoc basis enabling participants to have in-depth discussion on a topic that is of particular relevance to their organisation. Signatory organisations are also invited to utilise the ‘CoGP Signatories’ area of the Volunteering Options website as a space to share policies and documents, download useful resources and post comments on areas of interest.


Step 4: External audit: All volunteer sending agencies are required to undertake an external audit shortly after becoming a signatory to the Code of Good Practice. It is strongly recommended that the agency then undertakes a desk-based review every three years thereafter. Participating in these processes enhance learning and programme improvement. The external audit involves the following steps:

  • After receiving a completed self-audit, Comhlámh shares it with an independent auditing consultant who formulates questions to review with the VSA;
  • The auditor then visits the VSA for a day and goes through the self-audit, checks documentation and verifies processes;
  • The auditor drafts a report assessing the VSA’s implementation of the CoGP compared with their self-assessment. The report makes recommendations for further programme development, particularly in relation to meeting the core standards. Areas where the VSA can benefit from capacity building are highlighted;
  • The auditor explains the assessment outlined in the report and discuss how the VSA may prioritise the recommendations;
  • Small capacity building grants are made available by a review panel to enable audited VSAs to implement some of the recommendations of the audited reports.

The desk-based review involves the following steps:

  • After receiving a completed self-audit, Comhlámh introduces the VSA to the external consultant so they can organise logistics for the review;
  • The VSA provides the external consultant with documentation on programme policies and practices prior to the meeting;
  • The external consultant meets the VSA for a half day to discuss their progress since the external audit and assesses how the VSA is performing against the core standards and any other matters relevant to the CoGP;
  • The auditor drafts a report assessing the VSA’s implementation of the CoGP and makes recommendations for further programme development. 

The auditor’s report is confidential to Comhlámh, the auditor, the signatory organisation and a review panel which comprises representatives of Comhlámh and Dóchas.

 What responsibilities do signatories to the Comhlámh Code of Good Practice have?

The ‘Code’ is a quality standard that promotes excellence in international volunteering. Volunteer sending agencies choose to become signatories to the Comhlámh Code of Good Practice to demonstrate to volunteers, overseas partners, funders and members of the public that they are seriously committed to implementing good practice in international volunteering. As a signatory to the Comhlámh Code of Good Practice (CoGP) volunteer sending agencies have certain responsibilities. The volunteer sending agencies:

  • Make a commitment to put the 11 principles of the CoGP in place;
  • Submit a self-audit document to Comhlámh on an annual basis which gauges the extent to which they have implemented the principles above;
  • Undertake an external review of their programme with an expert consultant identified by Comhlámh approximately every three years;
  • Attend Peer Support Meetings where they have the opportunity to a) network with other volunteer sending agencies b) share tools and resources with others c) and learn about good international good practice in volunteering as it emerges;
  • Attend Issues-Based Meetings where they explore specific topics with peers and identify ways in which they can incorporate this learning into their volunteer programme;
  • Inform ensure all persons within their organisation understand and support the decision to be a signatory to the CoGP.

 Which organisations have signed up to Comhlámh's Code of Good Practice?

 What are Core Indicators?

In completing the Code of Good Practice, a volunteer sending agency is making a commitment to implement good practice in their work. Recently, Comhlámh has started to measure how much of the CoGP is actively being implemented. How we measure implementation The self-audit outlines forty-one indicators—or precise forms of action—a volunteer sending agency should take to ensure that the needs of the organisation, international partner(s), and international volunteer are being met. Of the forty-one indicators, fifteen have been identified as ‘core indicators’ which are considered essential to every volunteer programme. Beginning in 2014, organisations that can demonstrate that they have implemented the core indicators as outlined by the CoGP have been formally recognised for doing so by an external recognition panel.

 Which organisations have been recognised as having the core indicators in place?

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