By Susan Brame
Reprinted from The Leader, Spring 2001, Vol. 16, No. 2
NOLS completed its $8 million endowment campaign in December 2000. "Our message and our mission are timeless," says executive director John Gans, "and now we've taken a crucial step in ensuring that we'll be here long-term to continue that work."
The endowment is a permanent source of funds, the income from which will be used to fund the school's growing scholarship program, outreach efforts such as the internationally recognized Leave No Trace effort, and ongoing projects such as curriculum development. Last year, 459 NOLS students explored some of the world's most spectacular wilderness through scholarships. The endowment is part of NOLS' effort to expand that reach in the coming years.
"This campaign has been successful in numerous ways," notes Gans. "First, we exceeded our financial goal within the timeframe outlined by the board of trustees five years ago. Second, because over 80 percent of pledges are paid, the money is already being put to work-providing scholarships and funding important work in public outreach and wilderness research. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, we have strengthened relationships across the entire NOLS community."
In most endowment campaigns, as much as 50-60 percent of the gifts are deferred for a number of years, so the amount already at work in the NOLS endowment is notable.
"It was an extraordinary campaign," agrees Mark Cole, director of development for NOLS. "The generosity of our alumni and friends was amazing. We had donors from all walks of life who demonstrated their deep commitment to the school."
"It was gratifying to work with people who wanted to support NOLS," continues Cole. "Our alumni still feel passionate about how NOLS has helped shape them as people, and they want to help other people have the NOLS experience."
Regional Scholarship Committees
There were times when the $8 million goal looked out of reach. Eighteen months from the end of the campaign, associate development director Sarah Pierce was searching for a way to rally the enthusiasm she knew was necessary to complete the campaign.
"We had reached a plateau and lost our momentum," recalls Pierce. "Somehow we needed to regain the energy we had when we started the campaign." Working with a few NOLS parents and graduates in Jackson, Wyo., she came up with a plan. They brought together a group of NOLS supporters in the Jackson community, and working together, they raised enough money to permanently endow a scholarship. The Teton Petzoldt Scholarship was first awarded to Jackson middle school teacher Amy Manhart and will go each year to an individual from the Jackson Hole area. Manhart, who recently founded an outdoor program for local adolescent girls, attended an Alaska sea kayaking course in June 2000.
"My revelations were twofold," notes Manhart in a letter to the Jackson scholarship committee. "One, I belong outside. Two, we do possess the power to change our outlook and our path. The change requires courage to risk it all-the greater the risk, the greater the return. I left the course with a renewed commitment to ensure every girl coming through my classroom or my GAP! Program will not shy from a challenge, but will meet it with determination. Thank you for providing me an opportunity to reaffirm my place in this world and recommit to the work I do."
After the success of the Jackson committee, other local scholarship committees sprang up all over the country. Made up entirely of volunteers, these committees-NOLS parents and alumni mostly-are bringing people together in small groups to talk about NOLS. During the campaign, more than 100 volunteers gave generously of their time to make this effort possible. The committee structure allowed us to reach out to our alumni on a local level. The committees serve to reconnect graduates to the school, connect graduates with each other, and provide them with a way to simultaneously help NOLS and their local community. There is still a great deal of local scholarship work to do, and the committees continue to tackle projects in their communities.
Setting the Goal
"I had the opportunity to observe this campaign from its inception at a 1996 board meeting at the Baja branch," recalls NOLS board chair Allen Macomber. "I remember think-ing this was going to be no easy number for us to raise. However, the school, the board, the advisory council and innumerable volunteers all rallied to the cause and put their shoulders to the wheel.
"I continue to be pleasantly surprised at the level of dedication and commitment of our graduates," continues Macomber. "When we reconnect with them, there seems to be a tremendous respect and appreciation for their NOLS education. Though each graduate's story is unique, they all share that common thread.
"In stepping back, I am struck by two of NOLS' values that were exhibited in this campaign," observes Macomber. "First, we set a very high standard, and second, we achieved this standard in good style with a team effort."
Gretchen Long Glickman, who chaired the board before Macomber, agrees that this campaign was "classic NOLS. So many different people were involved-it was truly a horizontal effort. And the success of this effort augurs well for how the school will confront other significant challenges."
Reaching the Summit
The financial stability the endowment provides gives NOLS firm footing. From this stable foothold, the school can stretch to meet new challenges and address other priorities. The unique education NOLS offers in wilderness and leadership skills becomes increasingly relevant in a world of diminishing open spaces. With a strong endowment that education is also increasingly accessible to people, regardless of their financial situation.
"When we spoke to people in the NOLS community, they recognized the value of this effort," notes Long Glickman. "There is important work for NOLS to do that should not be funded with tuition revenue. Simply put, NOLS is a school of sufficient breadth that we need an endowment."
Which brings us back to John Gans' notion of the long-term implications of the endowment campaign. Gans can't seem to resist likening the school's effort in this campaign to that of an individual embarking on a NOLS course.
"That $8 million goal was a heavy pack we took on five years ago," says Gans. "And though we carried it in good style, we sure felt the weight at times. There were innumerable false summits as we climbed. But we finished on time, and we did it well. Just as a NOLS course changes individual lives, so will the endowment transform this organization. And we sure couldn't have done it without our course mates-the entire community of NOLS supporters."
For more information, visit our Giving page.