Mountains, Fast Cars and Philanthropy
By Susan Brame
Reprinted from The Leader, Fall 2000, Vol. 16, No. 1
What does a NOLS
mountaineering course have in common with endurance
racecar driving? At first glance, maybe not much, but NOLS
alumni, former trustee, and trusted advisor, Duncan Dayton
sees obvious parallels.
For Dayton, mountaineering and endurance racing require similar
stamina and mental fortitude. The personal rewards are proportionately
intense. Yet another element of Dayton's busy life is philanthropy,
to which he devotes a remarkable amount of time and energy.
And he notes that philanthropy produces rewards of another
Duncan's Many Lives and Pursuits
"My NOLS course was very much a 'coming of age' for
me," says Dayton. "During my course, I made my own
decisions and lived with the consequences. I gained a tremendous
amount of self-confidence in the process and with it a stronger
ability to assess how my skills and those of people with whom
I was working matched a situation.
"When I'm racing," he adds wryly, "I just
have to make those assessments and decisions a little faster."
Highcroft Racing is the company Dayton started in 1989. The
company does a thriving business restoring and racing vintage
cars. Highcroft works on classic cars from the 1950s to the
1990s, including a recent restoration of the Formula I Lotus
that Mario Andretti drove to the World Championship in 1978.
After racing professionally for five years, Dayton now concentrates
on the vintage cars and gets behind the wheel for just one
or two of the big endurance races each year. A self-described
David versus the manufacturer-backed Goliaths, Dayton and
his team are currently working on a lighter, more nimble car
they plan to enter next year in the LeMans, the 24-hour-long
granddaddy of all endurance races.
Those life skills he solidified at NOLS also come in handy
for Dayton in his other, more pedestrian pursuits. He is president
of Tamarack Investments, Inc., a real estate investment firm.
He is also in his tenth year as a trustee at Connecticut College,
his undergraduate alma mater, and he recently signed on to
serve a second three-year term as chair of that board.
Dayton's relationship with NOLS began in 1978, when he took
a Wind River mountaineering course. "I wondered what
the heck I had gotten myself into on the snowy day we slogged
up Dinwoody Glacier, en route to the summit of Gannett Peak.
That evening, exhausted and soaking wet, we set up camp in
a driving snowstorm."
Giving Something Back
Despite the hardships (or maybe because of them), Dayton
was sufficiently impressed by his NOLS experience that he
has always wanted to give something back to the school. For
several years after his course, giving back simply entailed
sending an annual check.
"The first annual reports I received from NOLS included
a short paragraph on the back cover thanking a handful of
people for donating that year," recalls Dayton. "It's
been great fun to see that list grow. I haven't missed a year,
ever, and I don't plan to." Last year more than 2,000
people made a gift to the NOLS Annual Fund -- quite an increase
from the handful Duncan remembers in 1978.
During the years after his course, Dayton gradually increased
his involvement with NOLS, joining the board of trustees in
1993 and completing a six-year term last year. "Duncan's
biggest strength as a trustee is his innate understanding
of NOLS -- from our mission to the practicalities of what
goes on in the field," recalls former executive director
Jim Ratz. "He came to NOLS for the same reason a lot
of young people do, then he took those life lessons from his
course and melded them into a successful adult life."
"Duncan is a mentor for me in his view of NOLS," adds
current executive director John Gans. "He honors our
tradition and history, but he also knows we can do better.
He pushes us to improve as an organization and yet is willing
to support that work with his ideas, time and financial support."
NOLS is near completion of an $8 million endowment campaign,
and the school has ambitious plans to continue raising non-tuition
revenue for programs such as scholarships, outreach, research
and capital assets. At this significant milestone, the school
turns for guidance to people like Duncan Dayton--with close
ties to NOLS and a thoughtful approach to philanthropy and
A Family Tradition
Though his NOLS course was formative in many ways, Dayton's
philanthropic philosophy and environmentalism both go deeper.
His grandfather and great grandfather, both strong Presbyterians,
believed firmly in the tithing tradition.
Kenneth and Judy Dayton, Duncan's parents, continued that
tradition of philanthropy and volunteerism and encouraged
their children to do the same. "My parents involved my
brother, Jud, and me in some of their philanthropic endeavors
starting at a fairly young age," Dayton remembers. "In
the '70s, with other people in the Sun Valley community, we
helped The Nature Conservancy acquire Idaho's Silver Creek
area. The time I spent there and my involve-ment in its protection
made a powerful impression on me about the importance of pro-tecting
and preserving wilderness."
"My NOLS course strengthened those convictions," continues
Dayton. "It also empowered me to act on them."
"What is important," writes Kenneth Dayton in a
recent publication, "is to think seriously about how
giving to great causes can affect both the donor and the recipient.
Planned giving (thoughtful giving) can and should be a lifetime
endeavor and should command the same kind of dedication and
energy that accumulating wealth does. Only then does one live
life to the full."
Duncan and his wife, Kate Kelly, now make most of their gifts
through their Tamarack Foundation. "We set up the foundation
several years ago," says Duncan, "as a tool to help
us be more systematic in our approach to giving. Providing
support to organizations and causes we believe in is an important
part of our overall financial planning."
Today most non-profits have a development office with staff
on hand to help donors plan gifts. NOLS is no exception. With
assistance from attorney Winton Smith, a NOLS parent and now
a member of the school's advisory council, NOLS has initiated
a planned giving program. When people hear "planned giving," many
think of wills and estates.
"NOLS has been in my will since my course," says
Dayton frankly. "Bequests are the surest way to build
a strong endowment, and I hope others in the NOLS community
recognize their value, both to themselves and the school."
While bequests are an important part of any planned giving
program, Smith prefers a broader definition. Dayton agrees. "The
term 'planned giving' gets thrown around a lot these days," reflects
Dayton. "But really, most gifts are planned, in the sense
that they are given only after careful consideration. Every
gift is meaningful -- both to the giver and the receiver.
When Kate and I donate to non-profits, either in a future
gift through our wills or in a current gift, we do so because
we believe in their mission."
"It's not important whether people give through a foundation
as Kate and Duncan do," notes Smith. "That works
well for some donors, but it's not for everybody. It is, however,
worthwhile to plan charitable gifts to fit your situation
and personal goals and to take maximum advantage of any tax
savings. It's a win-win situation."
"I've learned that by planning carefully I can frequently
give more than I initially thought possible," continues
Dayton. "And that's great because every gift I make to
NOLS has more impact. My gift puts more scholarship students
in the field or goes farther toward developing a new curriculum."
Dayton believes that it is only through the thoughtful and
purposeful involvement of the entire NOLS community that the
school will continue to be the leader in wilderness.
Whether he's building and driving racecars, defending wilderness,
providing leadership to his alma mater or tromping through
the mountains with NOLS, Dayton involves himself with a passion.
Though his tenure on the board ended last year, it's only
the close of a chapter in his lifelong relationship with NOLS.