With a Big Campus Give, Spotlight Falls on the Philanthropy of a Low-Profile Couple

John and Tashia Morgridge are not exactly household names in philanthropy, in part because they have mastered the art of low-profile giving. But they loom large here at Inside Philanthropy.

John is a billionaire and chairman emeritus of Cisco Systems, and the couple has been shoveling lots of money out the door through their Tosa Foundation, which has a big endowment and is a major giver in the areas of education, the environment, and global development

While Tosa had an impressive $727 million in assets at the start of last year, and gave out $52 million in 2012, it doesn't have a website or any way for grantseekers to get in touch. Arrgh. Of course, when your interests are as diverse as the Morgridges', the line forming outside your door can get pretty long, so we can see the appeal of a stealth approach. 

Related - A Cisco Fortune Emerges From the Shadows

However, the couple now has a guaranteed a moment in the spotlight, whether they like the glare or not, after making one of the largest higher ed gifts of the year, giving the University of Wisconsin $100 million.

Both of the Morgridges are alumni of the school, and co-chair the university's planning committee. The $100 million will support the school's faculty, matching gifts from others who endowed professorships, chairs, and distinguished chairs. The university estimates that the Morgridges' gift could double the number of endowed chairs and professorships, now standing at 34 and 102, respectively.

Concern about cuts in government funding to public higher education motivated the Morgridges' gift to the university. They noticed that while prestigious private institutions such as Harvard are reaping millions in support, many public institutions are falling behind.  

The Morgridges have a long record of giving to higher education, especially to their alma mater in Madison. If you count this $100 million gift, the Morgridges have given more than $440 million in grants and gifts, including $236 million to the University of Wisconsin.

Stanford, where John Morgridge completed his MBA, is another recipient of the Morgridges' support. As stated previously, the Morgridges and their foundation do not call attention to themselves. They gave up a little of their anonymity when they signed the Giving Pledge, but they still prefer not to call attention to themselves. 

Here are a few takeaways of this story for campus fundraisers:

One, there's nothing like having a double alum couple sitting on a big fortune. All the money, twice the loyalty, as we like to say.

Two, if you can draw both members of that couple into hands-on efforts to bolster the university, definitely do that. The harder they work, the more they'll give

Three, if your school is an underdog—say, a public university getting kicked around by a Tea Party hero like Scott Walker—that's a great card to play with donors, who are always looking for ways to make a real difference with their money and want their alma maters to get the respect they deserve. 

Four, never forget with billionaire donors that, no matter how much they've already given, there's always more where that came from


Tosa Foundation: Grants for Higher Education

Tosa Foundation: Grants for K-12 Education

Tosa Foundation: Grants for Global Development

Tosa Foundation: Grants for Conservation

Tosa Foundation: Grants for Animals and Wildlife