Peter Tavernise, Cisco Foundation

TITLE: Executive Director

FUNDING AREAS: Public health, human services, childhood obesity, health care, crime and violence prevention, clean water, global disasters, and emergency response

CONTACT: ptaverni@cisco.com, 408-527-3040

IP TAKE: Tavernise believes nonprofit effectiveness is enhanced by solid technological know-how. His grants aim to boost the technological capacity of charitable organizations.

PROFILE: Among tech firms, Cisco is a major philanthropic outfit. With assets of more than $133 million, the Cisco Foundation aims to "mobilize NGO-based Internet solutions for the underserved that address basic needs, improve education, and increase individuals' economic opportunity." Leading the Cisco Foundation in its charitable efforts: Peter Tavernise, longtime fundraiser and leader in the non-profit community.

Tavernise's history in the charity world is as diverse as it is extensive. He started out in the development world of colleges and universities: Davidson College, University of Texas at Austin, and Duke University. He then worked in the non-profit trenches as a program officer for the North Carolina-based Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and as a foundation consultant for the research institute RTI International. He then joined Cisco, first as a community investment manager, then as a fellow, before elevating to his current role at the foundation, as well as his role as Director of Corporate Affairs for the company's corporate arm.

Tavernise also has an insider view of a lot of other nonprofits by serving on their boards. Among those he serves or has served on: Great NonProfits, the American Red Cross Corporate Advisory Council, the National Geographic Media Advisory Group, the Technology Advancing Philanthropy Task Force of the Council on Foundations, Teachers without Borders, YouthNoise, and the Affordable Housing Trust of Santa Clara County.

At Cisco, Tavernise presides over annual giving amounts worth more than $12 million. Cisco's grants aim to technologically empower NGOs in a number of sectors, ranging from clean water programs in the developing world to childhood obesity prevention efforts in the United States. But the foundation tries to focus its giving in geographic areas where the corporate arm provides products and services. Among the groups Cisco currently funds: the pioneering microlenders at the Grameen Foundation; the young, urban educators at City Year; and the tech-savvy humanitarians at NetHope.

Groups interested in Cisco funding can apply in several different ways. Larger organizations with national and international operations can find relevant information here (note that grant requests cannot exceed $75,000). Locally focused groups, both domestic and international, that happen to be located within a 50-mile radius of a "Cisco major site" can find info here. And if you're a nonprofit seeking to improve your community via Cisco technology, you can learn about Cisco product grants here.

To understand what motivates Tavernise's giving philosophy, a 2012 blog post he wrote for Cisco offers some helpful insight. Here, Tavernise is describing how Cisco was able to help two successful entities—educational software creator MIND Research Institute and the aforementioned City Year—collaborate (using an apparently fun software program called ST Math) to engage young students in learning and, according to Tavernise, actually loving math. Tavernise's key takeaway: Funding technological and human capacities working in conjunction for good makes for effective philanthropy.

Anecdotally, we also heard that some students were so engaged in the challenge and intrinsic reward cycle of the ST Math games, they preferred to continue working through the puzzles rather than head out to the playground. My original title for this piece was "what helps students learn math?" But the fact is the MIND Research Institute's ST Math program not only helps struggling students learn and achieve in math, but remarkably, it changes their relationship to math to something they find fun and exciting. Combining this with the exceptional tutoring from City Year greatly multiplies the impact on students. Learn more about Cisco's other programs that combine human and technology networks to multiply impact at csr.cisco.com.