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Morsani wants USF philanthropy to prompt more wealthy Floridians to give where they live

Today is a heady day for both the University of South Florida and longtime Tampa business leader Frank Morsani.

The state university's medical school is beaming at officially receiving $20 million, its largest single gift ever in its 55 years.

And Morsani, along with wife Carol, both 80, are quietly pleased USF's new Morsani College of Medicine will carry their entrepreneurial mandate to educate more rounded doctors trained to collaborate with nurses, pharmacists and, yes, even patients.

"We feel strongly this university is on the cutting edge of making things happen," Morsani told me.

The $20 million gift, which brings the Morsani couple's philanthropy to USF up to a record total of $43 million, is "the right thing to do," Morsani says. It's all part of the founder of Precision auto dealerships' outlook of living life in, his words, three parts: "Learning, earning and giving."

Beyond a major contribution to USF, there's a message lurking here for budding philanthropists across Florida. The Sunshine State is notorious for wealthy residents sending generous gifts to schools, museums and performing arts centers back in their home states.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy found that in 2011, of 31 Floridians committing at least $1 million to a single charitable institution, 13 gave to a Florida institution but 18 sent their charitable funds to out-of-state groups.

While $20 million is to applauded, here's some perspective. A Pennsylvania steel executive this year announced he would give $265 million to Carnegie Mellon University.

Not that Morsani is USF's sole benefactor. Other major gifts have come from the likes of Les Muma, co-founder of the FiServ data processing giant, doctors Kiran and Pallavi Patel and even USF alum Tom Kennedy, co-founder of BackOffice Associates in Massachusetts.

But Morsani, a graduate of Oklahoma State, and College of Medicine dean Stephen Klasko want to send a message to wealthy Floridians that it's time to give back more to Florida. The two will travel from wealthy Naples to Jacksonville to encourage more philanthropy.

"We accumulated some resources here," Morsani explains, "and we feel a greater responsibility to give some back."

Still, neither side of Tampa Bay is doing enough giving, chides Morsani. His giving to USF goes back to the mid 1990s.

Most of the couple's contributions have gone to USF medical initiatives. But Morsani money also helped fund Carol Morsani Hall at Tampa's Straz Center.

And Morsani and Raymond James chief Tom James were among the first donors to contribute to the new Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg.

Klasko suggests Florida institutions still fight an outdated image that they are somehow less worthy of such support, even as out-of-state schools, hospitals and cultural organizations aggressively solicit wealthy patrons now living in Florida.

Getting the Morsani name on a USF medical school will help change such opinions, he says.

"As great as the money is, the Morsani name is greater," says Klasko. "It puts us in a different league."

Contact Robert Trigaux at trigaux@tampabay.com.

Morsani wants USF philanthropy to prompt more wealthy Floridians to give where they live 12/07/11 [Last modified: Thursday, December 8, 2011 11:23am]
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