Philanthropy and volunteering are like air and water for Michelle Marie King. She started her philanthropic journey in high school and never looked back. In 2007, she created Positive Presence Global – the largest life coaching company for teens and young adults nationwide.
The hardest part of volunteering, giving back and philanthropy can be where to start. To help answer some burning questions, we sat down with Michelle and asked her how she got started, how she got where she is today, and how to get involved in philanthropy ourselves.
The benefits of philanthropy are abundant and getting started is easier than you may think. Continue reading to get a glimpse into the philanthropic journey of Michelle, why it is important to start volunteering at a young age, and how it’s made a life-long impact on her perspective and outlook on life.
- When did you first become interested in spending your time helping others?
“In high school, I learned about an organization called ARCh, the Association for the Rights of Citizens with handicaps. The ‘h’ is intentionally lowercase because they don’t call out handicaps, they accept them just as we would a person’s eye color. I was going to high school in Wisconsin and found this organization at a meet and greet for different clubs and organizations. ARCh had a youth team that traveled all over the community to perform skits (some somber, some funny) about people’s differences. They promoted this idea of ‘differences, gotta have ‘em’ and helped people my age understand that differences come in all shapes and sizes – from wearing glasses to being in a wheelchair.
After working with ARCh for a while, our group got an opportunity to perform on the steps of the Capitol at the Inaugural Shaken Baby Syndrome Vigil in Washington DC. When I was a Junior (2002), the youth team (maybe 24-27 of us) traveled around the midwest and performed our presentation about Shaken Baby Syndrome, what it meant to shake a baby, and how to protect every life. Every person who saw our presentation the year leading up to the vigil signed a paper hand cutout promising to use their hands to help and not to harm. We collected hundreds of thousands of hands.
This really sparked my interest in giving back. Later that year, we all took a train to DC to perform at the Vigil, and I was chosen to open up our presentation on the steps of the Capitol.
At the end, we had a sunset vigil to honor the lives that were lost to Shaken Baby Syndrome, where we unveiled an incredible banner that wrapped the entire wading pool with all the hands we had collected. It was all these strangers working together to promise never to act in harm toward a baby.
This was the first time I experienced the feeling of giving back. Not just the tangible action, but the feeling of it. It was incredible and transformative. This is where it all changed for me.’
- Why do you think philanthropy is important for teenagers and young adults?
‘Nonprofits exist to help those in need, to advocate for a specific cause, or educate the public on important issues that impact all of us. When teenagers and young adults volunteer, they get an opportunity to see things from a different perspective.
When you have contrast and perspective, you find gratitude for what you have. When you volunteer, and give back, you meet people who are without (without love, without money, without a home, without a family, without peace), and you start to recognize all the incredible things you have in your own life that you may otherwise take for granted.
For example, when I was growing up, I didn’t have a close relationship with my grandparents. It wasn’t until I volunteered at a hospice in my 20s that I began to recognize that someday I might not have them. I had all this newfound appreciation, love, and respect for grandparents. I don’t know if I would have found that compassionate if I never experienced the heartbreak I felt volunteering at hospice. There are so many people who are suffering in so many ways, and when you put yourself in their shoes, you begin to recognize that there’s so much you have to be grateful for. And… When you help others, you become the thing that THEY’RE grateful for in their time of need.
Gratitude is the building block to self-respect and self-love. When you recognize that you have so much to be grateful for, you no longer take life for granted, you learn to appreciate it, and respect it.’
- How do you measure impact? Sometimes it can feel like you’re not making a difference, or your impact is so small.
‘I think every time I volunteer, create a new campaign, or work with a nonprofit, I set an intention of what I am trying to accomplish with this work. Then, I measure my impact by how I am in alignment with that intention.
When we do our Compassionate Christmas event every year, our intention is to help families and give them the necessities and the everyday essentials that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford for the holiday season. When I see these families in need arrive to collect something so seemingly simple, I am accomplishing my intention (the reason I set out to do this work), and I am achieving that impact.
I also think impact can be as simple as smiling at a stranger. You may never realize how far that ripple goes when you simply throw a small pebble into the water. Everyday I see my actions as hundreds of small pebbles and I find peace in knowing that they’re all creating small ripples of impact, even if I can’t see them.’
- In what ways has philanthropy changed your perspective?
‘It’s changed my perspective of what success really is. It’s not money, fame and fortune, it’s impact! It helps you realize that you are capable of being a hero. You don’t need a cape and a mask, you just need hands to give and words to say and sometimes THAT makes you a hero to one person. That feeling that you helped inspire one person in an uplifting way is a life melody I can’t get enough of.’
- How can young people start getting involved in philanthropy?
‘One, recognizing as parents that we have a unique responsibility to give our kids an opportunity from a young age to practice the feelings of love and compassion they have embedded in them as humans. Humans thrive on connection, and when we recognize that another human is struggling, we feel that connection even more intensely. It’s innate for us to want to help others. When we get older, we start to ignore this feeling of wanting to help.
For the next generation, the more adults and role models in their lives can provide opportunities for them to experience philanthropy at a young age, the better. For example, my seven-year-old daughter has helped me for the past few years with my annual Compassionate Christmas campaign. She helps me plan, sort, or do other small jobs here and there. As she gets older, I find her organically wanting to do more. Every year she experiences it through her own eyes and sees how all the planning and coordination pays off in the form of impact to people in need. It also helps her see people in other situations and she begins to experience that contrast that we all need to sit with humility and compassion for others.
The more you can help provide these opportunities,the more they remember and learn. Just let them see. It will inevitably create a driving force that becomes a solid foundation of philanthropy in their lives. When we show up in this capacity for others, more often than not our children will follow.’
- What is one of the most impactful/memorable moments you’ve experienced from your involvement as a philanthropist?
‘I’ve been volunteering since 1998 when I was in high school, so there are 25 years of philanthropic experiences I’ve collected along the way. They all have helped me become a better human!
Philanthropy is one of my core values. I am not fulfilled unless, at least once a month, I spend my time doing something for someone else, even if it is something small for a family member or a big event like Compassionate Christmas. There is always something going on in my life that is philanthropic in nature. It is the core of my being. Philanthropy to me is like water for my soul.
I’ve been lucky to have so many incredible moments through these experiences. They all hit a chord with me in a way that just lights something inside and keeps me moving forward. Being an entrepreneur is hard – creating something from nothing and building it to the point that it will have a global impact is even harder. There have been so many times while I’ve been on this journey when I want to quit. I break, and I crumble. I think it’s inevitable to feel this way, but… philanthropy refills my cup. It helps me feel whole and shows me why I can and should keep going. It heals the cracks and transforms me into a stronger version of myself and reminds me why I do everything in my life – to make an impact.’
- Why is philanthropy important for our world?
‘If we lived in a world where the people given everything don’t share it with anybody, and the people who struggle just continue to struggle, we would eventually become such a disdainful place. Honestly, sometimes it feels like we are already there. I feel like if every single person in this world had, at their core, this desire to help those who need it without question, without a ‘what’s in it for me’ mentality, we all wouldn’t JUST live, we’d THRIVE. In Positive Presence, I tell my team constantly, when we rise, we rise together and when we fall, we all feel the pain. The world we live in should be no different.’
Want to Get Started On Your Philanthropic Journey?
Reading Michelle’s story and advice has us feeling motivated to jump into some volunteering opportunities. If you are wondering how to get started, find out how to get involved as a teenager.
Philanthropy has so many benefits, including feeling optimism and joy. If you are on a journey to feel more self-love, gain perspective, or make a difference in the world, you are in the right place.
If you are having trouble feeling motivated to volunteer, feeling apathetic, or unsure how to get organized and get started, consider setting up a complimentary consultation to speak with one of the Positive Presence Mentor-Coaches to get some insight and support.