Reflections on Organizational Integrity

I’ve been reflecting lately on the distinction between compliance and integrity. Compliance is following rules — especially when it comes to finances. Regulations give us lines not to cross. Our internal policies or IRS regulations or state regulations give us parameters in which to stay. Or at least, not get caught if we stray from these regulations (whether it’s intentional or an honest mistake). Some of these make sense and some don’t, but they are an inevitable part of operating as a nonprofit organization.

Integrity, on the other hand, is the bigger vision I seek for us as an organization and the missionaries we serve. The word integrity, while its definition connotes honesty and morality, is really a picture of wholeness. If a person has integrity, he or she is the same person inside and out. She’s a person who lives the values she professes. He’s a person who is honest and open about his personal life because he has nothing to hide. As I’m sure we’ve all experienced, it’s a fight to be a person of integrity.

I’m wondering if when we consider integrity, we should think more in terms of an organizational culture that pauses to ask questions as we go about our daily work.

  • How can we be an organization that lives out values with openness and honesty and has a holistic approach to finances and administration? The values we profess should be evident in the way we use money, interact with donors and vendors and treat our resources.
  • How does this reflect our values?
  • Is this empowering something God wants us to do?
  • Even if this action is legal would I want all the people involved in our organization to see this?
  • Most lapses in integrity happen as a gradual eroding over time — maybe training ourselves to ask questions in the small daily decisions will strengthen our integrity for the long-haul.

I wonder if in addition to all forms filed and paperwork in line, we create a culture in which each action involving funds gives leaders pause to consider not just if the action is within set rules but if it embraces the values the organization professes. When we follow rules our motivation is external — we don’t want to get in trouble. When we pursue integrity, we bring God into the small questions and actions of our days to build a life of integrity. It grows something beautiful. Could organizational finances really be beautiful?

Maintaining true integrity will always be a battle — against our selfishness and pride and sense of entitlement. When we follow rules and focus on compliance, we risk becoming legalistic or people who block ministry in the name of safety. When we ask the question of what God is doing and how can we shape it in a way that is both compliant and full of integrity, we empower kingdom work.