Short Hills resident Michael Feldman thinks the world of good deeds needs a better website. So with his background in IT and his software development expertise, he decided to create it himself.
World of Humanity (worldofhumanity.com) went live in January. He designed it to help users launch their own good deed efforts, or join or donate to someone else’s campaign.
He also provides the tools for individuals and organizations to manage existing campaigns.
“It’s a hub where community leaders, charities, celebrities, and individuals can make a difference by creating a good deeds project and activate their volunteer bases to do acts of kindness,” he said.
On a recent Thursday morning, Feldman discussed his latest venture over coffee at Rockin’ Joe’s in Millburn. The 45-year old immigrant from Ukraine and “serial entrepreneur,” as he likes to call himself, was sporting slicked-down longish black hair, a fashion-forward pink button-down shirt, and an easy smile.
“This is something I really needed to do as a way to give back,” he said. “I built it from my heart. I have great kids, a great family,” he said. But in considering what kind of legacy he is leaving behind, he added, “I wanted to do more; I wanted to be more impactful.”
Feldman got his first real brainstorm for the site at a conference for Chabad Lubavitch shlihim, or emissaries, held in Brooklyn two years ago, which he attended as the guest of his rabbi, Mendel Solomon of Chabad at Short Hills: Ahavat Torah.
He was moved by a speaker who urged the emissaries “to inspire people to do 20 good deeds, and 20 more people and on and on.” He had already seen this in action through Solomon.
“I can’t tell you how much he inspires me, how much he’s done for this community,” Feldman said. In particular, he recalled a meal delivery organized for a family with a sick parent that had more to do with emotional than financial support, but was extremely meaningful. “We live in Short Hills. The family could afford a nanny or meals. But the husband would come home, and he didn’t have the energy to do anything,” Feldman said.
Feldman realized he could create a platform for community leaders to organize events and enable people to have the experience of “transformational philanthropy,” in which all participants are changed through the interaction.
“It hit me. If I want to make an impact, I have to do it the way I know how. I’m an IT guy,” he said.
Scrolling through the website reveals various opportunities to volunteer, from participating in the Jewish Relief Agency’s monthly food delivery program, to walking with Seeds of Peace (an Israeli-Palestinian coexistence program), to helping provide funding for We Can Lead, which offers mentoring to schoolgirls in Africa.
For the JRA monthly food delivery service, for example, options include packing a box, delivering a box, taking photos, even setting up beforehand. The site can also be used like Kickstarter, to fund new businesses. Currently, there’s a listing for Deschutes Brewery Streetpub, a pub that offers not only beer but also food, local music, and partnerships with local charities “so you’ll be drinking for a good cause.”
The site is free to anyone who wants to use it. While the idea clearly comes from a Jewish perspective on tikun olam, healing the world, and many of the listings have a Jewish flavor, Feldman’s target audience has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with humanity in general. “I just want to encourage people to do acts of kindness — for people to be kind to their neighbors,” he said. “The whole idea came from my rabbi, but my idea is for everyone to use it.” He added, “This is not about giving to religion. It’s about the idea that when you give back, you feel closer to your community. It’s for people who want to be engaged in their communities. This is a small tool to help people reach out.”
WorldofHumanity.com will be able to drive volunteers to a given charity’s own website, and when they leave, an “exit overlay” as it is known, will provide analytics and statistics about what they do on the site. The exit overlay will involve additional fees, but if he is providing the right information, Feldman is convinced organizations will pay for it.
The biggest challenge he faces is driving people to the site, and having them understand its potential.
Currently, there are fewer than 500 registered users, and the site has between 200 and 250 likes on Facebook. The site had a brief spike in visibility when Feldman got a shout-out for his efforts from Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) in early April.
Although he has hopes the site will eventually throw off a profit, he is savvy enough to know that he cannot hold his breath. Now that it’s live and running, he said, he’ll have to get a job soon. In the meantime, he is still cold-calling organizations, trying to hook them on his idea.