Some years ago, Debbie Mason Talbot, a hospital-based manager of volunteer resources, and Ann M. Heesters, director of bioethics at the same institution, came together to discuss a series of cases that generated moral distress for their volunteers and for those who supported them. Though these cases arose in a hospital setting, it quickly became evident that Talbot and Heesters had uncovered themes that would be familiar whenever volunteers interacted with clients, patients, staff, or managers. Talbot and Heesters realized that what they soon called “boundary dilemmas” were not new or local issues, but perennial problems that could be addressed more easily once a common vocabulary was established to discuss the cases and the factors that made them ethically troubling.
In this e-Volunteerism feature, Talbot and Heesters use case studies to explore boundary-crossing situations and organizational responses to them, case studies that can be applied to volunteer situations in a myriad of settings. They also review a tool called FaCE-IT to help analyze boundary dilemmas in organizations and methods to deal with them. As the authors write, “Volunteers who are made aware of the language of boundaries are better equipped to identify potential dangers and to make informed decisions about ethically troubling dilemmas. They will be better prepared to distinguish helpful behaviors from those that have the potential to cause harm.”