Pastor Rick Warren's California congregation was in trouble. Despite typically drawing more than 20,000 worshippers each Sunday, the church faced a $900,000 shortfall. Warren asked his flock for donations -- and raked in a whopping $2.4 million. Even more surprisingly, reports indicate that no single donor chipped in more than $100.

That recent story highlights two valuable lessons I've learned over the years. First, small amounts are powerful in investing. Second, the more people who come together to give, the better off a charity will be.

Little sums pack a big wallop
If a certain stock has caught your eye, you don't need to skimp and scrounge until you've rounded up enough money to buy at least 100 shares. You can just buy one share, or 13 shares, or 374 shares. If you wait too long to get into the market, you'll miss out on the amazing return-boosting power of compound interest. Starting sooner, even with a tiny amount, will give your investments more valuable time to grow.

For an even more affordable way to start building wealth, you can invest via Drip plans, also known as dividend reinvestment or direct investment plans. They let you regularly send in sums as small as $25 or $50 to buy shares a handful, or even a fraction, at a time. Here are a few dividend-paying companies that offer Drip plans:

Company

Recent Dividend Yield

Minimum Drip Investment

Nokia (NYSE:NOK)

3.9%

$50

Avon Products (NYSE:AVP)

2.6%

$10

Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT)

2.8%

$25

Deere (NYSE:DE)

2.0%

$100

Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE:CL)

2.1%

$50

McDonald's (NYSE:MCD)

3.5%

$50

Nike (NYSE:NKE)

1.6%

$50

Data: Yahoo! Finance, Directinvesting.com

Hundreds of other stocks also offer such plans, which can make it a lot easier to invest small amounts over time.

Same goes for charitable giving
You can also accomplish a heck of a lot by giving away just $100 or less. For more than a decade, our annual Foolanthropy campaign has brought together thousands of Fools to do good around the world. This year, we're supporting an impressive local school, with Fool staffers volunteering there in person, and Fool readers invited to chip in and help.

Take a minute or two to learn about Thurgood Marshall Academy. Its students come from communities with the lowest academic achievement levels in Washington, D.C., and the nation. Yet in the past five years, its students have delivered a 100% college acceptance rate. Clearly, the school's doing something right. With a little more help from us, it can keep up the good work -- and perhaps do even more.

Whether you're investing or giving to charity, remember that even small sums make a difference in reaching your goals. Just ask Rick Warren.

Learn more about Foolanthropy:

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of McDonald's. Nokia is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Try any of our investing newsletters free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.