After two shaky years for the U.S. charity sector, due to the economic slump and the aftermath of September 11, things are beginning to turn around. Many charitable organizations are more optimistic this holiday season about their ability to raise money for services and programs than they have been during the past few years. Meanwhile, however, the annual survey from the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that hunger and homelessness continued to increase in the past year, with requests for emergency food assistance up by an average of 17 percent, and requests for emergency shelter up by an average of 13 percent.

Use this giving guide to find out how you can do your part: research which charities to give to, test your Poverty I.Q., figure out your giving comfort level, and find inspiration to help you explore the giving spirit of the season.

What's Your Favorite Charity?
Share your favorite charity with other Beliefnet members on the message boards. Some recent member favorites:
Locks of Love
"3 inches of hair can make a wig for a child, who has lost their hair from chemo, and other painful tests, that these brave little kids endure." --loriann32507

Alley Cat Allies
"My favorite charities are those dealing with the prevention of animal abuse and neglect and those that care for homeless animals, until hopefully proper placing can be arranged." --Corrieanne
World Vision
"To know that I can make a child/family/community better for only $26.00 a month is unbelievable." --sue000

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
"My husband & I haven't been able to have children and after all of the prayers that St Jude has answered for us, I have promised to help take care of his children. St. Jude give children cancer treatment no matter what their ability to pay is." --lashail

Special Holiday Charity Projects
Secret Santas, Sidewalk Santas, Toys for Tots and more season-specific charities that need your help during this time of the year.

Giving Time
Many organizations set up special Christmas volunteer projects. A few examples:
New York Cares Holiday Volunteering | Ideas in Houston | Chicago Holiday Volunteering | Projects in the Twin Cities | Opportunities in Kansas City

Not Sure How Much to Give?
Try out one of these online giving calculators:
Average Giving Calculator: Calculates your suggested donations based on the U.S. giving average
PrudentPal Charitable Giving Caluculator: Takes you through five steps to determine your comfortable giving capacity.

How Charitable Are You?
How much does your sense of charity affect your daily life?

What's Your Poverty I.Q.?
Take the quiz to see how attuned you are to the problem of poverty in the U.S. and in the world.

What to Know
How to Pick a 'Good' Charity

Which Contributions Are Tax-Deductible?

Handling Mail Appeals, Telephone Solicitations, and More
Tips from the Better Business Bureau

Questions to Ask
Important things to know about a nonprofit before giving money.

What Your Holiday Gift Money Can Do for the Greater Good
If you spent on charity as much as you spend on holiday gifts, how many lives could you change?

The Half and Half Holiday
Let's spend as much on charity as we do on Christmas gifts. By Gregg Easterbrook

The Hundred Dollar Holiday
Writer Bill McKibben advocates a simple Christmas.

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