You need to have a very predictable revenue stream. You’re going to have to establish fundraising goals and objectives. You’re going to have to identify people that can donate, not only to get you started but to also keep you in business.

For someone who wants to set aside money to establish a Philanthropic Foundation or Fund, what does it take to make sure your resources are being impactful and truly effective? In this interview series, called “How To Create Philanthropy That Leaves a Lasting Legacy” we are visiting with founders and leaders of Philanthropic Foundations, Charitable Organizations, and Non-Profit Organizations, to talk about the steps they took to create sustainable success.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ed Mitzen.

Ed Mitzen is a philanthropist, executive, author, and entrepreneur with a track record of success. His businesses have achieved more than $1 billion in revenue, and Fingerpaint Group, of which he is the founder and CEO, has been recognized as an Inc. 5000 fastest-growing private company for ten consecutive years. Alongside his wife, Lisa, Mitzen co-founded the award-winning Business for Good, a family of nonprofit and for-profit companies, making significant contributions to organizations focused on creating positive change. His personal passions include promoting equity, fostering stronger communities, preserving arts and culture, providing emergency services, and combating homelessness and food insecurity.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about a ‘top of mind’ topic. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?

Two weeks after I graduated high school, my father passed away suddenly at the age of 41. From that moment on, not only did I have to grow up in a hurry, but it also made me realize how life is unpredictable, can be very short, and that we need to make everyday count. A lot of that has translated into the founding principles of Business for Good. We try to do as much as we can, as fast as we can. And try to make a lasting impact.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? We would love to hear a few stories or examples.

First and foremost is empathy. I’ve always felt a tremendous amount of appreciation and caring for the staff that works for me: they work hard, they do it with a smile, and they’re good team members. I’ve always felt a deep responsibility to ensure they have a workplace they enjoy. Several years ago, my wife and I decided to pay off the majority of the student loans for our staff at a company I founded prior to Business for Good called Fingerpaint. We spent $4 million of our own money to significantly erode student loans for about 125 of our employees. We were able to wipe out student loans for around 90 employees, and the rest we were able to significantly lower what they owed.

Another important character trait is honesty. People want to know that they work for somebody that they can trust. They want someone who will acknowledge when things are hard or when the company has made mistakes.

The third character trait would be self-effacing. People want to work with somebody that isn’t afraid to laugh at themselves and who isn’t going to take themselves too seriously. I’ve always told people, ‘Look, I’m not the smartest guy in the room. So, if I am, we’re in trouble.’ I hire people smarter than me and get out of their way.

What’s the most interesting discovery you’ve made since you started leading your organization?

As we’ve spent time in these inner-city communities, it’s been incredibly inspiring to see how loving the community is for one another. While many of them do not have any degree of wealth, they’re always the first to supply a child with a coat that doesn’t have one or feed somebody that’s hungry and can’t afford to pay. It’s such a loving network of people that are working together to try to survive in an environment where the chips are stacked against them.

Can you please tell our readers more about how you or your organization intends to make a significant social impact?

Business for Good combines financial investment with the social impact of philanthropy to help get people up the income curve in underserved communities. We’re injecting resources directly into those communities and helping people that need it the most. We are tackling it one business at a time, one family at a time, to create an ecosystem where all of these businesses are helping one another. Whether we’re helping a couple of women start their own law practice, helping a woman grow her flower shop business, or helping a funeral home expand their services; we’re injecting capital, mentorship, and business skills in these communities so that they can create generational wealth and also raise up entire neighborhoods.

What makes you feel passionate about this cause more than any other?

When I got out of college, I was living in a really bad neighborhood in Albany. I was bringing home $600 a month working at a local hospital. My rent was $330, I had a $113 student loan, and the rest of it was for food, laundry, and electricity. I didn’t have a car; I couldn’t afford a phone. Fast forward thirty years, and I was able to get out of that situation, while other could not. They didn’t have access to the education, network of connections, and mentorships that I did. Many are still stuck in that neighborhood. It became a driving desire to me to understand why. Once we figure out what the challenges are, we can tackle them head on.

Without naming names, could you share a story about an individual who benefitted from your initiatives?

There is a single mom who put four kids through college. She was an African American woman from Jamaica and worked as a nurse at a local hospital for thirty years. She decided a few years ago that she wanted to open a flower shop. When we met her, she was making about $35,000 a year running the shop. She wanted to grow but didn’t have the resources or connections. Enter Business for Good. We rebuilt her website, refrigerated her van, and helped renovate her store. But the most important thing that we did was introduce her to people in the community that could potentially buy flowers from her. We introduced her to the head of the hospital where she worked for thirty years, and she was able to get the flower shop business at that hospital. And now, she’s tripled her business. She’s making six figures now, and she’s well on her way to making more money than she ever has.

We all want to help and to live a life of purpose. What are three actions anyone could take to help address the root cause of the problem you’re trying to solve?

First, get out of your comfort zone. Attend local meetings and stop by the community center to meet people in these communities and learn what the challenges are. It’s important for people to find causes that interest them.

Second, get involved at the local level. There’s a lot of nonprofits that need a good Board of Directors and people volunteering their skills to help the nonprofit grow. So, whether its helping young moms become better moms, helping people access better health care, or helping a local Boys and Girls Club, there are a lot of wonderful nonprofits in inner-cities that are desperate for help–not just funding but for volunteer work.

Finally, don’t sit on the sidelines because you’re worried that you’re going to offend somebody or you’re going to make a mistake. Our culture has made people guarded, and they don’t want to step out of their comfort zones. I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way. I’ve learned from them, and the people that we’re working with have given me the benefit of the doubt. Embrace that lack of comfort and get yourself out there.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Create A Successful & Effective Nonprofit That Leaves A Lasting Legacy?”

You need a very focused mission. You can’t be everything to everybody. You have to be in a position where you’re willing to say, ‘This is what we do, and this is what our focus is.’ When we started Business for Good, we were all over the place. We were buying restaurants, donating money to charity, and helping entrepreneurs in underserved communities start their businesses. It was very difficult for people to grasp exactly what we were doing. We turned the corner when we determined that all of the stuff that we were doing was to try to create lasting change in local communities and build an equitable future.

The second thing you need for a successful nonprofit is to get a nonprofit lawyer and accountant to make sure that you are set up properly from the very beginning. There’s a lot of ways that you can make mistakes, just because you don’t know the rules and regulations.

The third key to a successful nonprofit is establishing a very reputable Board of Directors. The board should not only be tasked with fundraising, but also guiding the strategic direction, providing counsel to the senior leadership, and making strategic decisions. At Business for Good, we have a solid board with diverse skills and backgrounds.

The fourth thing you need is to find the right leader to run the organization. There’s a lot of people out there that want to do really good work, but can they run a company? Can they analyze financials and inspire people to donate? Can they be empathetic towards communities or the goals that you’re trying to achieve? You’ll see a lot of nonprofits with leaders who are passionate about the cause, but they may not have the skill set or the personality to make the tough decisions.

Finally, you need to have a very predictable revenue stream. You’re going to have to establish fundraising goals and objectives. You’re going to have to identify people that can donate, not only to get you started but to also keep you in business.

How has the pandemic changed your definition of success?

The pandemic put the gap between the ‘haves and have nots’ into hyperdrive. Many of the jobs that were not affected by COVID were the high-paying, white-collar jobs where people could work remotely and continue to thrive. Many of the businesses that were severely impacted, like restaurants, entertainment, hospitality are made up of employees who don’t have the means to weather the storm. What the pandemic did for our definition of success was to focus on those areas that were hardest hit. We wanted to help these folks even before the pandemic, and then when we saw how devastating it was to them, it motivated us to work harder.

How do you get inspired after an inevitable setback?

We all get punched in the face. We recognize that we’re not going hit a home run every time. While we’re trying to help people grow their businesses, it’s hard to grow a business no matter who you are or where you are, let alone in some of these inner cities and forgotten communities. We recognize that at times, we’re going to fail. And if we fail, it motivates us to try harder the next time.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non-profit? He, she, or they might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I’ve been so impressed with McKenzie Scott and her ability to get money out nationally at a local level. My local YMCA got a check from her out of the blue, and it changed their entire outlook and helped so many people. I love that she’s giving locally. I’m sure she’s never visited the YMCA in Albany, but she gave them a seven-figure donation, which is just amazing.

You’re doing important work. How can our readers follow your progress online?

The best place to follow the great work we are doing is through Business for Good’s Instagram:; Twitter: or linkedin:

Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.