OVERVIEW: Founded by former chairman of Cisco Systems John Morgridge and his wife Tashia, the TOSA Foundation is an intriguing education funder. Since signing The Giving Pledge, the Morgridges have invested heavily in education, providing small general-operating grants to new and emerging nonprofits and multimillion-dollar grants for school districts and college. This interest comes as no surprise, considering Tashia is a longtime educator.
IP TAKE: Education is certainly a priority of the TOSA Foundation, but there's a catch. The foundation keeps a pretty low profile, selecting its own grantees and keeping grant guidelines private. This makes it difficult for grantseekers to access the foundation's awards.
PROFILE: It’s a challenge to get inside the TOSA Foundation's grant-giving. Yes, you can check out Form 990s to get an idea of who its past grantees are, and the Foundation Center has identified key giving areas as encompassing animal welfare, arts and culture, education, the environment, human services, international development, international relations, and youth organizing. But that route offers only a small glimpse of the organization. And in many ways, that's how John and Tashia Morgridge have preferred to work as philanthropists — behind a certain amount of anonymity.
With that in mind, here are a few pointers about the TOSA Foundation's strategy. First, the majority of grants go to organizations in California — particularly the San Francisco Bay Area — and in Wisconsin and Massachusetts. In an interview with Bridgespan Group, the founders talked about giving in Wisconsin (where they were both born and raised) and near their home in Silicon Valley, because they know the issues well in these places.
The Morgridges are fairly hands-on philanthropists. They still have active roles in the foundation, and they've developed relationships with longtime partners. For instance, the foundation has provided support for Reading Recovery in East Palo Alto for decades. "Philanthropy is not a short-term thing," Tashia said. "You have to hang in there for the long term."
TOSA grants have also endowed a variety of long-term education programs, including a scholarship fund for Wisconsin students and millions of dollars (in the form of CISCO stock shares) to the Wisconsin Technology Initiative. WTI provides grants for K-12 classrooms in Wisconsin for 21st-century teaching methods, and that's one place educators can turn to for grant funding. In addition to continued support for education initiatives, TOSA has also historically provided a number of small grants — of $1,000 to $1,500 — for a variety of new and emerging organizations.
It's difficult to tell exactly what might happen with TOSA, and like many lower-profile givers, their foundation has no web site or clear route to apply for funding. But the founders are sticking to their Giving Pledge, and their daughter-in-law, Carrie Morgridge, heads a separate foundation, the Morgridge Family Foundation (also invite-only), which also has a major focus on education philanthropy.
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