The Bridgespan Group

Enter your email address to receive updates:

John and Tashia Morgridge Give Where They Know

John and Tashia Morgridge's upbringing in the idyllic 1950s Wisconsin suburb of Wauwatosa gave them a shared appreciation for both high-quality education and the great outdoors. Today, the chairman emeritus of Cisco Systems and the former special-education teacher and education author reflect their gratitude for that past with their philanthropy.

In 1992 the Morgridges formed the Tosa Foundation, a family foundation that was named after their shared Wisconsin high school, fulfilling their early interest in giving anonymously. The Morgridges have given back to their home state by taking the lead on a long list of large initiatives, such as a $175 million gift to create the Fund for Wisconsin Scholars, which will give college tuition grants for low-income students attending Wisconsin’s public universities. Also on the list is the Wisconsin Technology Initiative, which provides 21st-century instructional technology—using Cisco gear—to forward-thinking school districts. And beyond that, John was instrumental in creating the Discovery Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a public-private partnership for collaborative research among a range of disciplines.

For the Morgridges, who signed the Giving Pledge, dedicating a significant portion of their philanthropy to Wisconsin made sense for strategic reasons as well. "It is a place where you can get things done. It has a scale that is doable…you can meet the people that you need to meet and get the work done that you’re hoping to get done," says Tashia. John adds, "The two places we’re involved [in], we have pretty good knowledge about, and I think that gives you leverage."

That second place in which the Morgridges are involved is Silicon Valley—their adopted home. Tashia notes that their work in East Palo Alto, specifically their effort over the last two decades to improve literacy through the Reading Recovery program, has taught them a key lesson worth sharing with other philanthropists: "Philanthropy is not short term…you have to keep working at it. You can’t give up. You’ve got to keep a goal in mind."

▼ Read More

Recent Videos

I find the current state of education in this country just very distressing. We are not educating our students. Those kids who grew up the way I did in suburbs are getting a good education. But the kids who do not grow up in those kinds of situations are not getting education. And I really think that we are jeopardizing our country...our whole democracy, by not educating our citizenry. - Tashia Morgridge

You can be a different philanthropist at different parts of your life. If you're a 30 year old and you have a young family you're going to deal very differently because your interests are much more varied. But you're not going to have the same kind of time that you have when you're our age. And so I think that philanthropy evolves over time and I think that's a very important thing. - Tashia Morgridge

Smiles. Thousands and thousands of smiles is what philanthropy has given me. It's hard to find that kind of continuous pleasure in the activities that you undertake. Certainly I've found a lot of them in business. But, I really found an awful lot of them in our philanthropic work. - John Morgridge

Philanthropy's really had an enormous impact, I think, on both of our lives. Because we are active people; we like to learn; we like to be involved with other individuals and neither one of us would do very well as just retired folks reading on the couch or playing golf or traveling the world; it just wouldn't work for us. And philanthropy has given us an opportunity to learn so much well beyond what we would in any other retirement scenario. - Tashia Morgridge

Certainly the two places we're involved we have pretty good knowledge about. And I think that gives you leverage in understanding things like, who are the good people? What kind of infrastructure can you leverage? What is the climate of the environment that you're giving into? Because that has a huge effect on the positive impact of the money. - John Morgridge

To get results with philanthropy, I think you've got to do two things. One is to focus. Know what it is you're trying to accomplish. Understand the organization or the project or whatever it is you're contributing to and keep focused on that. And I think the second thing is to hang in there. Philanthropy is not a short-term thing if you're going to accomplish significant change - and it takes years, it doesn't take months - you can't give a one-year grant to something. You can't give a three-year grant to have to hang in there for the long term. - Tashia Morgridge