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Culture of trust and marshmallows

In our March 2016 print issue of Professional Security, we wind up our four-part report on a recent Fraud Advisory Panel-Charity Commission one-day conference on fraud in and against charities, an important and pioneering event to raise awareness of the problem, and an encouragement to charities (and their many trustees) to admit that it is in their interests to admit that they face fraud and corruption like businesses, governments and any other body.

In our February 2016 issue, we featured the talk at the conference by Oliver May, the head of counter-fraud at Oxfam GB. He argued that charity staff in the field should be anti-bribe ‘trail-blazers’, even when it might seem the easy and sensible, and even responsible, thing to do to pay a bribe, to get aid through to those who need it in conflict zones.

Oliver May has blogged, asking whether a culture of trust makes an NGO effective, or leaves it vulnerable to fraud. It is hard to find justifications for the idea that charity, NGO and non-profit workers are more trustworthy than those in other sectors, he writes:

Trust is very important in the workplace. We know that ’empowerment’ is probably a key factor in employee satisfaction, and that there might be a link between the quality of staff performance and their sense of that. We also know that there is a level of trust inherent in all controls, and that humanitarian and global development organisations need to devolve substantial responsibility in (for example) emergency operations, distant field offices, and when working with volunteers. Trust is an important lubricant for our operations. Untrusting workplaces feel austere: morale-deserts that suck the moisture of life out of us.

There is, however, a tension between the need to trust, and the risk of abuse – such as fraud and corruption. Some have argued that the scale of trust in charities, NGOs and non-profits elevates their vulnerability to fraud, a perception with which a 2009 survey of UK charities seemed to agree.

Read the rest of the blog at

Separately, he has also blogged on overheads; arguing that the push for low overheads in NGOs raises the risk of fraud.

Oliver May’s book, Fighting Fraud and Corruption in the Humanitarian and Global Development Sector will be released in June 2016 by Gower.

Why second marshmallow?

May calls his blog He argues that humanitarian and global development organisations can maximise their effectiveness at reducing fraud and corruption – and get the second marshmallow.


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