Beyond benevolence:

understanding and preventing violations by the organisations we trust

When trust is breached by mission-based groups, like churches and charities, it negatively impacts some of Australia’s most vulnerable populations.

It is therefore important not just to understand how the community reacts to fraud, neglect or other breaches by mission-based groups, but also how to reform organisational structures to prevent future violations.

A team of UQ researchers including Professor Matthew Hornsey, Professor Nicole Gillespie and Dr Cassandra Chapman is tackling this complex issue.

Their research looks at mission-based groups — those whose primary purpose is to serve the community rather than generate profit — and how the community reacts to breaches within their ranks.

“This is a delicate but important topic to explore,” Professor Hornsey said.

“Trust is a necessary resource for these organisations to operate – integrity is a defining expectation and a non-negotiable resource.

“Their day-to-day functioning relies heavily on their image of being virtuous and this image facilitates community engagement and donations."


By highlighting the factors that lead to inaction in the face of allegations, the research has the potential to defeat organisational cultures of corruption, abuse and neglect.

“Our research employs a multi-method approach that involves interviews, archival data and experimental data, to try and get a 360-degree view of this issue,” Professor Gillespie said.

“By providing insight into these breaches we can help organisations identify how they happen and ensure they have checks and measures in place to help prevent them from occurring in the first place."

The project will also help shed light on the path to redemption and how organisations can regain the faith of the public once a violation has occurred.

“This research plays an important role in contributing to a fairer society — it has the potential to benefit many Australians, particularly those most in need of help by mission-based organisations," Professor Hornsey said.


Dr Cassandra Chapman, Professor Nicole Gillespie and Professor Matthew Hornsey

Dr Cassandra Chapman, Professor Nicole Gillespie and Professor Matthew Hornsey

Read more inspiring research partnership stories from the 2019 BEL Research Profile.