Tashia Morgridge, TOSA Foundation

TITLE: Co-Founder and President

FUNDING AREAS: Animal welfare, arts, education, environment, higher education, human services, international affairs, international development, youth development, and services

CONTACT: Visit PeopleFinder for email and phone number (paid subscribers only)

IP TAKE: Morgridge and her husband, John, want to effect lasting change in K-12 and higher education in Wisconsin and California, especially for underprivileged urban students. They seek worthwhile projects that will give them an "Aha!" moment.

PROFILE: Tashia Morgridge describes the current state of American education as "very distressing." More than 50 years of involvement in education, both as a teacher and philanthropist, informs this view. She finds the situation especially dire for children in urban environments.

"We are not educating our students," she said. "There again, the kids who grew up the way I did, in the suburbs, are getting a good education. But the kids who do not grow up in those kinds of situations are not getting educated, and I really think we are jeopardizing our country."

Morgridge studied education at the University of Wisconsin, then began teaching while her husband, John, attended business school at Stanford University in California. (John Morgridge is the chairman emeritus of Cisco Systems.)

The Morgridges support education initiatives through the TOSA Foundation, the family foundation they established in 1992. The foundation gets its name from the high school they both attended in their native Wisconsin. Preferring to give anonymously, the Morgridges intended for the name of the foundation to help conceal their identities.

"For many years, John and I had tried to be anonymous with our giving and had been semi-successful with that," Morgridge said. "But then slowly we began to realize that we were the only ones who thought we were anonymous—because everybody else knew what we were giving." This realization led to their decision in 2010 to sign the Giving Pledge at the encouragement of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.

Through the TOSA Foundation, Morgridge and her husband concentrate their giving in places with which they are familiar. This focus means the bulk of their giving is in their native Wisconsin and the Silicon Valley area of northern California, where they reside. California is the site of one of Morgridge's longest philanthropic efforts: working to improve literacy in East Palo Alto through the Reading Recovery program. She discovered the program while working as a volunteer in a school and describes it as an effective, one-to-one program for students who struggle with reading. Since then, she has continued to support Reading Recovery and the Ravenswood school district in East Palo Alto "through thick and thin," including some negative feedback over the years and multiple changes in district leadership.

"These kids are worth it, and I'm not going to give up," she said. "Philanthropy is not short term, and if you are easily discouraged it may be the wrong field to be in."

The experience in East Palo Alto has given Morgridge an appreciation of how difficult it can be to effect change in schools that are located in poor neighborhoods. For the TOSA Foundation, an important element of successful programs is to identify strong leaders who can keep a project moving and sustain the work. If you have an organization, preferably in Wisconsin or Silicon Valley, that wants to reach struggling populations — and you have the tenacity to keep going despite barriers—the TOSA Foundation is a potential funding source. The Morgridges said in 2011 that they are always looking for worthwhile new projects to fund.

"We don’t have the next idea right now," she told the Chronicle of Philanthropy in 2011. "But we are very much aware. We're always looking. We have the 'aha' moment where we say, 'You know what? We can do that.'"

Projects that could give the Morgridges that aha moment include those that combine effective teaching with educational technology. Past recipients of TOSA Foundation grants have included the Puget Sound Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology (now known as the EdLab Group) in Washington state.

Alternatives to traditional public education may provide the aha moment, as well. The TOSA Foundation has provided small grants to some charter schools, and John Morgridge has suggested that the experience with East Palo Alto, while rewarding, has made him think about the best way to support education.

"If we look at all the money we invested there, you could make the argument we'd be better off starting a charter school and funding that," he told the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

In addition to their work in California, the Morgridges are strong supporters of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, a fund that provides scholarships for Wisconsin high school graduates. They also funded the Wisconsin Technology Initiative, which provides instructional technology to Wisconsin school districts. They also have helped ensure the continuance of their philanthropic work by supporting the Morgridge Family Foundation, established by their children.

The TOSA Foundation supports higher education in addition to K-12 projects and initiatives. Consistent with their philosophy of giving to the communities they know, the Morgridges' higher education support has gone to the University of Wisconsin and Stanford.