Powerful Women Powering Philanthropy

Jan. 23, 2020

Over the last decade, a trend has emerged at the University of South Florida: powerful women making powerful gifts that are literally changing the footprint and offerings of the university.

It began with Carol Morsani, who with her husband, Frank, has given more than $40 million to the university, including to the Morsani College of Medicine that bears their name.

Pam Muma and her husband, Les, are the university’s largest individual benefactors, giving more than $56 million to support the Muma College of Business, USF Health and Athletics.

Throughout her 19 years as USF president, Judy Genshaft and her husband, Steven Greenbaum, gave $10 million to various causes at the university. Then, just before her retirement, they made a $23 million gift to build and name the Judy Genshaft Honors College and endow the college’s deanship. It is perhaps the largest gift by any college president to their own institution while still in office, and brings their total giving to date to $33 million.

Carrying on the tradition of outstanding female benefactors is Kate Tiedemann, whose $10 million gift to name the Kate Tiedemann College of Business still stands as the largest gift in the history of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Her spouse, Ellen Cotton, followed with a gift of $1 million for scholarships, cementing their family’s strong commitment to USF St. Petersburg and its students.

These visionary women have created a culture of philanthropy that has inspired other women to give.

Lynn Pippenger has given nearly $30 million to USF Tampa and USF St. Petersburg, including a $5 million gift to name the iconic Lynn Pippenger Hall at USF St. Petersburg. She has noted she was inspired by the giving of others to make her significant gifts to USF.

In April, Monica Wooden, co-founder of MercuryGate International, gave $5 million to name the Monica Wooden Center for Supply Chain Management and Sustainability in the Muma College of Business.

And most recently, inspired by Genshaft’s gift, Claudia McCorkle made a $1 million gift toward the Judy Genshaft Honors College. McCorkle, a longtime donor to the college whose total giving is nearly $15 million, previously created two separate scholarship programs (one for study abroad and one for academics) almost a decade ago.

While an uptick in female philanthropy has been noted across the U.S. as women’s share of wealth has risen over the last 50 years, USF can clearly count itself among the leaders of this trend.

According to the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI) at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, women hold around 40 percent of global wealth. WPI also found that women are more likely to give — and give more — than their male counterparts. It’s a potent combination.

For these donors, where does the desire to give come from?

McCorkle said it comes “straight from the heart.”

“It is pure. It is innate,” she said. “My mother remarked on my ‘generosity’ when I was a very young girl. It was such a big word! I asked her what it meant, and she explained it was like bringing chewing gum to share with the whole class.”

McCorkle’s mother also taught her to always leave a place better than you found it.

“Philanthropy is something beyond the realm of gender, race or religion. It is something innate; a means of sharing to make the world a better place,” she said.

Wooden also remarked on the desire to give being innate, especially in women.

“I always think that women’s DNA is more about giving. It’s easier,” she said.

Wooden has seen this play out with her daughter and son while playing sports.

“When a girls’ team loses, they all believe it’s their fault; when a boys’ team loses, it’s the other guys that didn’t play well,” she said. “Our culture is changing though, and I hope we end up in the middle.”

In her adult life, she’s observed a tidal wave of increased support around advancing women in business, especially through her membership in C200, an organization of the world’s most successful women business leaders whose mission is to advance women entrepreneurs and corporate executives.

“Thus, more women are helping women,” she said.

For Pippenger giving began in childhood.

“Why did I become a volunteer and philanthropist? Because as a child, the number one thing I was taught to do with my money was to ‘give back,’ or as we say today, ‘pay it forward,’” she said.

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From left: Lynn Pippenger, Kate Tiedemann and Ellen Cotton joined faculty, staff, students and community members at the dedication of Lynn Pippenger Hall at USF St. Petersburg, Jan. 17, 2017.

A St. Petersburg native and USF alumna, Pippenger has certainly given back to USF, as evidenced by the Lynn Pippenger School of Accountancy in the Muma College of Business and Lynn Pippenger Hall at USF St. Petersburg, home of the Kate Tiedemann College of Business.

“When I was 4 or 5 years old and given a small allowance, I was taught three things: one, I always had to ‘give back’ in treasure, time and talent; two, I had to save some money; and three, I could spend some of it. I still do those same three things today.”

Muma also said philanthropy was something ingrained in her from a young age. 

“I grew up in a giving family. Especially my grandmother, she was such a giving person. Not monetarily, but of her time. I think I learned from her that you have to reach out, you have to give of yourself,” she said, and that’s where her journey began, with volunteer experiences through Girl Scouts and other organizations in high school.

But it was the loss of her daughter, Jennifer, who passed away in a neonatal nursery, that first got her thinking about how to give back, not just time and talent, but monetarily.

“That’s the basis where it all started from a larger monetary standpoint. I still say it’s not the money. It’s your time and your interest and your dedication to one or many organizations. Giving back in every way,” said Muma.

The same is true for Genshaft, who has generously given her time, talent and treasure to USF over the last 19 years.

“Everyone in life wants to make a difference,” said Genshaft. “I believe the best way to do so is by helping others. Whether through your time, your talent or your resources, giving back is something that is so important to me and to my family.”

Giving of time is how Morsani started her philanthropic journey.

Morsani was instrumental in helping to found USF’s Women in Leadership and Philanthropy program and served as the inaugural chair of the organization.

“I had to be taught by Frank, as strange as that may seem,” she said about where her philanthropic drive comes from. “I gave of myself, as a Girl Scouts leader and that sort of thing with the children, but giving big where it was important, where it really counted, he had to teach me how to do that. We’ve given to USF because what the university does for the community is important.”  

Her mother also had a huge influence on her — a suffragette who left home at 17 and put herself through school at Valparaiso University.

“She had a large effect on me about what women can do and really what they should do,” said Morsani.

What women can do has certainly shifted over the last few decades. In a study by Fidelity Charitable it was noted that societal changes over the last 40 years have altered gender roles.

Tiedemann, a successful businesswoman herself, credits the increasing number of women at the top of their professions as the reason we’re seeing more and more significant gifts by women.

“There are more women with more key roles in business making more money, so they are more able to make transformational gifts,” said Tiedemann.

Since 2014, Tiedemann and her spouse, Ellen Cotton, have given more than $14 million to USF St. Petersburg, WLP and other initiatives.

Tiedemann emmigrated from Germany at 18 without speaking a word of English and joined the household staff of former New York Governor Thomas Dewey. From there, her career began in the corporate world as a secretary and culminated by founding Katena (“Kate North America”), a premier international company based in Denville, NJ, that designed and manufactured ophthalmic surgical instruments sold in 110 countries.

“I continue to wonder how my career path might have unfolded if I had been able to have a formal education,” said Tiedemann. “While I managed to be successful without it, in today’s rapidly changing world, it is extremely important for students to seek a broad spectrum of education to become future leaders in the world of business and the USF Kate Tiedemann College of Business is a great place to do it.”

Like Tiedemann, Wooden found success in founding her own business. 

Wooden started MercuryGate in 2000 with the financial investment of family and friends, working for three years without pay to get the business up and running. When she sold MercuryGate nearly 20 years later, those same investors along with many employees — 40 people in all — became millionaires.

Reflecting on the increase in women philanthropists, Wooden also pointed to the improvement in women’s earning potential, with more and more women holding executive-level positions and thus making substantial money.

“I think it’s just women getting the chance to be equal players, the chance to ‘break the glass ceiling’ and start businesses,” she said.

Muma echoes their sentiments, noting there are more career opportunities for women than ever, and with greater capacity comes greater potential to give.

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Pam and Les Muma with Bulls Business Community residents on Oct. 10, 2014, the day of the USF Muma College of Business naming in honor of their $25 million gift.

“We’re still a minority, but it’s happening. It’s a gradual introduction,” she said. “Women empower women. I’m hoping they’re seeing other people doing it, and they’re seeing the value in it.”

Muma said, especially for women, philanthropy is a personal thing. The Fidelity Charitable study found women have more of an emotional connection to their giving than men, often volunteering or becoming involved in the causes they support.

“Whatever you might be involved with, you have to build a relationship with that entity before you’re going to write a check. It’s like, ‘location, location, location’ in real estate. It’s ‘relationship, relationship, relationship,’ when you’re talking about philanthropy,” she said. “For Les and I, our relationship has been strong with USF.”

For McCorkle, the Judy Genshaft Honors College has been an ideal match for her philanthropic vision. To date, her scholarships have allowed more than 100 Honors students to pursue their dreams of global experiences and an Honors education at USF.

“It’s wonderful to hear what these students have been able to experience abroad,” said McCorkle, who is a strong supporter of cultural exchange. “Some have helped to build both educational and medical facilities in Central America and the Caribbean or shadowed neurosurgeons performing brain surgery in Switzerland — it’s amazing. I leave those meetings walking on air because I am delighted to see their happy faces and hear about their life-changing experiences.”

With so many worthy causes in need of support, Cotton, a retired banker and Hallmark store entrepreneur, advises women to give to areas they care most about and where the money will have the greatest impact.

“Give most to organizations about which you are most passionate and whom you know will do the most good for the most people with what you give them,” she said.

Cotton, for example, gave $1 million to establish the Ellen Cotton Endowed Scholarships, which support full-time undergraduate students pursuing all majors in the Kate Tiedemann College of Business on the USFSP campus.

“I continue to be concerned about qualified students being unable to attend because of their family’s financial situation,” said Cotton. “I am also appalled at the level of student loan debt being accumulated by today’s university students. At the same time, I want them to enjoy and grow through the college experience.”

When deciding which areas to support, Wooden sat down with her family to choose causes, which include advancing women in business, developing the supply chain field, assisting a dog rescue, combating domestic violence and ending human trafficking.

Wooden, who has been involved with the Center for Supply Chain Management and Logistics since 2012, knew the timing was right for her transformational gift after watching both the center and the university grow in stature over the last few years. 

“I think the biggest thing is support something that you want to see significant progress in and do it in a big way,” said Wooden.

For Genshaft, it was second nature to support the university that has been such a huge part of her life.

“We have felt very fortunate to have been able to give back to the University of South Florida, which has given so much to us,” she said. “It’s only natural that we would do whatever we can to ensure its continued success.”

Morsani said the intent of her giving has been to make the place where she and her husband, Frank, live a better place. In that vein, they have given generously to the arts, education and health.

“As good citizens, people need to do what they are able, giving time as well as finances to improve the lives of all,” said Morsani.

Seeing giving come full circle is most satisfying for Muma. After 20 years of supporting scholarships, she has seen many of her recipients go on to become successful in their own lives and then reach back to lend a helping hand in their communities.

“That’s what it’s all about. We have taught them, the scholarship recipients, it’s important to give back,” she said. “It’s full circle. That’s why you start anything that you do.” 

The Power of the Collective

Not only are women in positions of power exercising their philanthropic might, but women in general are realizing the power of pooling their assets. According to the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, women like to give collectively, with 70 percent of giving circles being majority-women. An extremely successful example of one such program exists at USF.
Foreseeing the emergence of this philanthropic trend, Carol Morsani, Judy Genshaft and Pam Muma were part of a group that founded one of our region’s first philanthropic giving circles, USF’s Women in Leadership and Philanthropy (WLP). WLP, which will celebrate 15 years in 2020, has collectively raised well over $6 million since its founding and has invested almost $2 million in student scholarships, faculty excellence grants and funding for mentoring and leadership development programs. 

More importantly, this group — now more than 350 members strong — has leveraged the power of the collective time, talent and treasure of their diverse membership to benefit countless women throughout USF and the broader community.


Total First Time Individual Donors in FY20


Endowment Assets Through FY20


FY 2019-20 Total Commitment