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The Leader
 

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 type altogether.

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 volunteerism.

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.


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