It’s Foolanthropy season again, when we at Fool HQ band together with you, our readers, and support inspiring causes. This year, for example, we're adopting a local high school with great needs and great ambitions -- the 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, it's doing something right. (Read all about it -- and learn how you can participate in our campaign this year.)

Just as we aim to help Thurgood Marshall students save themselves and their futures by offering financial education, many of our previous Foolanthropy organizations have also aimed to help people save themselves. And interestingly, it often takes just a little to do so. A little financial education can prevent someone from ending up drowning in credit card debt, and can start them investing early, when their dollars have the most growth potential.

A little goes a long way
That's a lesson we've learned in many ways. For instance, one organization we supported in previous years, the Grameen Foundation, traces its roots back to the economist Muhammad Yunus. He discovered several decades ago that many people living in extreme poverty around him in Bangladesh needed only a few dollars to save themselves.

That's right -- they just needed small loans, so that they could start little businesses. With, say, $10 or $50, a destitute woman could buy a goat or a sewing machine, suddenly gaining a way to make money. Yunus began the Grameen Bank to give out these little loans, and today, there are many "microcredit" or "microfinance" organizations around the world that are lifting millions of people out of poverty. The business model is a beautiful one, as the loaned money is repaid and then reloaned, over and over.

Add up those pennies
So what do Thurgood Marshall Academy and Grameen Foundation have to do with you? Well, think about it. They're showing us how much improvement there can be in lives with small investments. All some people need is a little seed money -- for a goat or some other money-maker. That's all you need, too.

We often dismiss the power of small sums, but we shouldn't. Think of dividends: They're small payments, but they can really add up and transform our financial lives. Norfolk Southern (NYSE:NSC), for example, offers a dividend yield of 2.6%. So at its current rate, one share of the stock will pay you $1.36 per year.

Big deal, right? But remember that healthy, growing companies increase their dividends over time. Check out what you might collect in a single year, if you have $10,000 invested in each of the following dividend payers:

Company

Recent trailing dividend yield

$10,000 invested yields this much annually

China Mobile (NYSE:CHL)

3.7%

$370

Olin (NYSE:OLN)

4.7%

$470

Norfolk Southern

2.6%

$260

Huntsman (NYSE:HUN)

4.1%

$410

Pharmaceutical Product Development (NASDAQ:PPDI)

2.5%

$250

Philippine Long Distance Telephone (NYSE:PHI)

7.6%

$760

PG & E (NYSE:PCG)

3.9%

$390

Total

 

$2,910

Source: Yahoo! Finance. Yield based on trailing dividend payments over past 12 months.

See? At these rates, in a single year, you'd be collecting more than 4% of your investment in cash (or reinvested in more shares, to spit out more dividends). That return trumps most CDs and bank accounts these days, and it's likely to grow over time. If the dividends grow by an average of just 6% annually, the effective yield on your original cost will rise to 13.3% in 20 years. That'll amount to a hefty $9,300.

The lesson here is that small sums add up and can save your financial skin -- just as a few dollars can save a destitute family in Bangladesh, or a few critical concepts can save a Washington, D.C. youth from big financial mistakes.

The power of dividends is astounding. Read about how Todd Wenning has discovered five stocks for both growth and income.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article. Pharmaceutical Product Development is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. Philippine Long Distance Telephone is a Motley Fool Income Investor selection. Try any of our investing newsletters free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.