County music diva, Kathy Mattea’s lyrics, “Standin’ knee deep in a river and dyin’ of thirst,” could well apply to the quagmire many people get into when they start their philanthropic quest.

According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS) there are more than 1.5 million not for-profit organizations in the United States. How does a caring and motivated person whose values are aligned with the causes they wish to impact chose the organizations to support with their time, talent and treasure? Evaluation agencies such as Guidestar and Charity Navigator efficiently rate the fiscal strength and governance stability of an organization. But how does one learn about the culture of the organization – its unique internal spirit? Is it vibrant, transparent, and respectful of volunteers, staff donors and the population their mission serves? Do the programs and services have the impact and get results that are in sync with the donor’s intentions?

Many of the women my co-author and I interviewed for our book “Women, Wealth and Giving,” cited trust and transparency as two critical elements they look for in the organizations they support. They believe transparency builds trust and is the “tie-that binds” the ethics and integrity of an organization’s culture. Transparency opens communication and creates a safe environment for donors to share ideas as well as financial resources. Trust can inspire more creative solutions for problems when shared ideas lead to looking at things in a fresh new way.

Transparency is part of honoring and living by the Donor Bill of Rights, a document to assure that philanthropy merits the trust and respect of the general public. And one sure way to quench a donor’s thirst for trust and transparency is to invest time in asking serious questions, make frequent visits to the organization as well as the beneficiaries of the organization’s mission, and get involved as a volunteer. Remember, your donation is an investment in the future of the organization, its mission and the community. Transparency and trust set the stage for an energetic and diverse community and keep you from “Standin’ knee deep in a river and dyin’ of thirst.”

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