Behaving with integrity

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This week the results of an Essex University survey on integrity were published causing a flurry of articles and discussion about the findings. It seems that from their responses to the questions asked, fewer young people show integrity than those in older age groups and that a greater number of us are less honest than we were previously. We appear to be on a slippery slope to dishonesty and our young people are yet again in the media spotlight, and not in a good way.

I’m not going to spend time on analysing the content of the survey but do suggest that the concepts of integrity, truthfulness and honesty are complex and interwoven with social attitudes and moral codes. Telling the whole truth all the time will not necessarily be the most successful tactic in a public or private situation. Someone who always insists on being brutally honest, regardless of the effect their truthfulness has on other people, can be a difficult person to get along with and may cause havoc in the workplace. However, having integrity, behaving honestly and only telling the truth (even if at times it’s not the whole truth) are essential in building trust. The individual who gets a reputation for being untrustworthy or for double-dealing will create problems in the workplace and if they are in a leadership position can cause long-term damage to their organisation.

The reputation of an organisation, and especially the reputation of a charity, relies on its people behaving with integrity. Those who represent it, the staff, trustees, volunteers and even its high-profile supporters who may be associated with it in the public eye, need to follow a code of conduct which will build trust and confidence within and outside the charity. It’s not just about what we do but how we do it – the end does not always justify the means. The setting down of some ethical principles or values and beliefs will help to provide a clear set of standards of behaviour for all and avoid differences of understanding. This set of values will also help in recruiting new people who are willing to sign up to them and the induction process can make it clear from the start what is expected.

Many successful charities spend time articulating not only a mission statement (what they want to achieve) and a vision (of how they want to see the world) but also a set of values (what they believe to be important and how they will behave). Many of these values will be common across the voluntary sector – respect, honesty, reliability – but by making them specific and explicit they can serve as a checklist to aid decisions and inform actions.

Lack of trust and confidence has already had dire consequences in the global economy and leaders behaving without integrity continue to cause companies to collapse. The charity sector is vulnerable too and a key responsibility of Trustees and CEOs must be to ensure that their own behaviour and those of others in the charity is beyond reproach and that systems are in place to reduce the risk of dishonesty and that leaders demonstrate, encourage and reinforce integrity as the expected behaviour.

Good governance, risk management systems, conflict of interest registers, internal and external audits, clear policies and a code of conduct are all tools to help keep an organisation on the right path. Leading by example and encouraging positive and open communication of organisational values will help reinforce the importance of being honest in building relationships and achieving charitable objectives.

To find out more the Charity Commission provides some helpful guidance about preserving the integrity of charities.