Jacob, fleeing from the threat of his brother Esau, was alone in the desert, homeless and penniless. That night he slept on the desert floor, and when he awoke he prayed to G-d for safety and his basic necessities. His simple prayer ended with the pledge “All that you give to me, I will tithe to you. (Genesis 28:22)” Jacob’s request was not for money per se. He pledged that “All” that G-d gives him, he will give a portion of it back. (Sefer Taam V’Daas, Rabbi Moshe Sternbach).
I know someone — his name is Zvi — who, along with his siblings, spent time tending to his mother in the hospital during her final illness. Circumstances required that the family leave the hospital unexpectedly on the Sabbath. They were compelled to walk a long distance to a relative’s apartment, late at night, through the dimly-lit streets of an unsafe neighborhood. This incident, combined with the emotional stress of caring for their dying mother, left them quite shaken.
Soon after, their mother passed away. Zvi felt something needed to be done so no one else would have to go through such an ordeal, walking through unsafe streets on the Sabbath in order to be near their loved one. He decided to set up an apartment close to the hospital for families to stay in over the Sabbath; many other Jewish communities have sponsored apartments for this purpose. So Zvi went into action, calling community leaders, Rabbis, anyone who could help him to acquire the needed funding for such a project. After considerable effort, he secured several generous donations to fund the new apartment and maintain it with Kosher food and basic housekeeping on an ongoing basis. Those whom he solicited for help were so impressed with his devotion to the project that they even dedicated the apartment in memory of Zvi’s mother. To this day, Zvi boasts that he was able to dedicate a Bikur Cholim apartment (apartment for people visiting the sick) in memory of his mother without spending a penny.
To be a big donor, one doesn’t need to have money. All that is required is a drive to serve others. While non-paying donors may be less likely to be honored at the Annual Dinner, or have their names etched on a brass plaque, their service to the Al-mighty will be recognized by Him — and ultimately that’s what really matters.