Citing tight spending by individuals as a result of the bear market, reduced support from grant makers, government cuts, and the loss of corporate gifts, a new survey from GuideStar finds that contributions to U.S. charities declined in the first 10 months of 2002.

Over half of the survey participants reported a decrease in donations from January to October 2002, as compared to the same months in 2001. November and December traditionally see an increase in giving, so nonprofits remain optimistic about year-end total contributions.

It's not too late to turn those numbers around, and the Fool makes it easy for you. Check out Foolanthropy, our annual charity drive, and learn how a small gift from you can make a big difference.

Merry Christmas!

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Top Christmas Gifts

Just like every Christmas Eve, Santa and his elves are extremely busy at the North Pole today. This has been an unusual year, and as such jolly old Saint Nick is loading up some unusual gifts for tonight's sleigh ride:

Top 10 Gifts Santa's Loading in His Sleigh

10. For Your Broker: You call and ask for help, saying you don't have a clue what to buy.

9. For Alan Greenspan: another 10-year extension of his lease on life.

8. For Martha Stewart: speed dial to her broker.

7. For Bill Gates: gold-plated Monopoly board game.

6. For Ralph Nader: the Democratic National Committee starts taking his phone calls again.

5. For anyone needing good advice: TMF Money Advisor.

4. For Harvey Pitt: a pound of common sense.

3. For Dennis Kozlowski: Mail Fraud Barbie.

2. For Henry Blodget: a limited edition framed copy of The Beatles' "Yesterday."

1. For President Bush: France suddenly invades Iraq out of petulance.

Quote of Note

"Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful." -- Norman Vincent Peale (1898-1993), American clergyman

Many Happy Returns

"This could be the worst Christmas ever," one analyst told CBS Marketwatch.

Bah, humbug. Maybe it's a blue Christmas for him and investors in Wal-Mart(NYSE: WMT), Kmart, J.C. Penney(NYSE: JCP), Federated Department Stores(NYSE: FD), Gap(NYSE: GPS), and Best Buy(NYSE: BBY), which are reporting less-than-bright holiday sales. But with December retail expected to flag in 5.5% lower than last December, retailers are expected to pull out all the stops to get you and your not-yet-maxed-out credit card in the door to snap up the dregs of Christmas merchandise. They've gotta make room for spring merchandise, after all.

Still, the tougher retail environment also means tougher return policies at many stores. What to do with those three extra coffee grinders and charming needlepoint "Puppies in a Basket" throw pillow that's not quite right in your mid-century modern pad? Here are eight tips to help you make many happy returns!

  • If possible, get the gift receipt from the gift giver.

  • Return the unwanted item ASAP. Wait too long, and that lovely $55.97 deluxe mahjong set may be marked down to $7.99. And that's what you'll get in return.

  • Return the item in its original packaging. Neatness counts.

  • Be willing to exchange the item or accept store credit, if it means you'll get more to spend.

  • Remember to bring the original credit card you used for the purchase if you're returning a gift you bought.

  • Befriend the sales staff. Niceness counts. Employees sometimes use their discretion about whether to allow return/exchange transactions.

  • Avoid peak shopping hours so employees are less frazzled and more willing to work with you. If you hit a brick wall of resentment, try a different location. And remember -- smile!

  • Unable to exchange, get a store credit, or cash back? There's always the fine art of regifting.

Shameless Plug: A Time for Community

Need a break from the family, or just wanna share some time with fellow Fools? Discuss everything from stock investing to what's keeping you sane over this holiday season on our Fool Community discussion boards. Take advantage of our free trial offer.

Quick Takes

Video game maker Midway(NYSE: MWY) revealed it will miss its fourth-quarter targets -- badly. The company blames the shortcoming on lackluster demand for some of its titles, including Defender and Dr. Muto. What? You didn't see Dr. Muto on your child's holiday wish list? You're not alone. It had initially guided analysts toward earnings between $15 million and $40 million. Then again, that was before the bleak prognosis for Dr. Muto forced the company to go for a second opinion.

While one assumes a home-furnishings retailer would be savvy enough to have its house in order, that hasn't been the case for Restoration Hardware(Nasdaq: RSTO). Looking to give new meaning to the art of remodeling, the company restated earlier financial statements, actually trimming last year's reported loss in the process. This follows last week's announcement that it's delaying filing its quarterly report due to overstated accounts payable, understated inventory levels, and a lack of sleep following a Trading Spaces marathon.

Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC) is no Ebenezer Scrooge. The lender is cutting the troubled toysmiths at FAO Schwartz(Nasdaq: FAOO) some slack to keep the company from filing for bankruptcy over the holidays. Wells Fargo said it wouldn't take action against the retailer's blown credit facility until Jan. 10, but that doesn't give FAO much time. Problems persist as the company strives to compete against the discounting heavies at Wal-Mart(NYSE: WMT) and Toys "R" Us(NYSE: TOY) and survive the trend toward video game consoles over traditional playthings. FAO Schwartz will be closing a quarter of its stores, mostly those under its Zany Brainy banner.

In a move that may give psoriasis sufferers new hope, Xoma(Nasdaq: XOMA) and Genentech(Nasdaq: DNA) are applying for marketing approval for their experimental treatment of the burdensome skin condition. Unlike the topical creams presently available, which aid mild cases yet fail to address the symptoms of psoriasis, Raptiva is a monoclonal antibody injected weekly, and it has tested well for more aggressive treatment of the skin disorder.

Like a reluctant coffee addict, Microsoft(Nasdaq: MSFT) will have to keep working with Java. In a preliminary injunction, U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz ruled that the company must include the popular Sun Microsystems(Nasdaq: SUNW) programming language in its operating system software. Microsoft will appeal the decision.

And Finally...

Today on Fool.com: Matt Richey reminds us of the true meaning of happiness... Jeff Fischer looks forward to the New Year and the promise of good stock purchases. .... In Fool's School, budgeting software that will help you plan for 2003.... And the Post of the Day: a touching story from some Foolish elves.

Contributors:
Bob Bobala, Robert Brokamp, Jeff Fischer, Tom Jacobs, LouAnn Lofton, Bill Mann, Selena Maranjian, Rex Moore, Rick Munarriz, Matt Richey, Jackie Ross, Reggie Santiago, Dayana Yochim