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2012 Top-Rated Nonprofit

National Outdoor Leadership School

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Nonprofit Overview

Causes: Environment, Environmental Education

Mission: To be the leading source and teacher of wilderness skills and leadership that serve people and the environment.

Results: With courses ranging from 10 days to a full academic year, we attract highly motivated students who want to learn how to lead. NOLS graduates have everything needed to lead others in the backcountry, as well as the leadership ability to excel at work or in the classroom. We expect a great deal of our students. NOLS courses are demanding, because we believe people thrive when challenged. Our hands-on, learn-by-doing approach means our graduates get the skills they need to be competent, responsible wilderness travelers long after their course.

Target demographics: NOLS serves students from age 14 to over 70.

Geographic areas served: NOLS graduates are from all 50 states and 42 countries.

Programs: We believe positive, ethical leaders change the world. Based on this belief, NOLS has, over the last 46 years, become the leader in wilderness education. Founded in 1965 by legendary mountaineer Paul Petzoldt, NOLS takes students of all ages on remote wilderness expeditions and teaches them technical outdoor skills, leadership, and environmental ethics. What NOLS teaches cannot be learned in a traditional classroom or on a city street. It takes practice to learn outdoor skills and time to develop leadership. The backcountry provides the ideal setting for this unique, experiential education—NOLS classrooms are some of the world’s wildest and most awe-inspiring locations. We believe living in untouched places like our classrooms will teach students responsibility for all that surrounds us.

Community Stories

28 Stories from Volunteers, Donors & Supporters

1

Client Served

Rating: 5

NOLS is the best outdoor educator in the country. NOLS teaches leadership, teamwork, wilderness skills, and stewardship to the land and each otherin everything they do. I completed the month long Wind River Mountaineering course in 200 and climbed Denali with NOLS in 2006. Even today, I realize new ways in which these courses changed me forever. The NOLS structure teaches you lessons that you will remember for a lifetime. For example, leadership. You talk about leadership and then the next day you actually lead the group for a day of hiking and practice your leadership skills. You make mistakes and learn from them in a supportive community. ... NOLS is also a community of amazing people. While many have done unique things, my amazement with NOLS faculty, staff, and alumni are that they are passionate about what they do, care deeply about other people, and exhibit leadership in everything they do. I would recommend NOLS to anyone that not only whats to have a fantastic wilderness experience, but also build the leadership skills to face all of life's challenges.

1 Sydney H.

Client Served

Rating: 5

I completed a Wind River Mountaineering course and a Wilderness EMT course through NOLS and WMI. NOLS generates active and concerned citizens who are not only
proficient in wild places, but who care for the environment, leave a
small footprint, and know how to effectively collaborate with others.
I believe NOLS graduates go out into the world and show others how
to live similarly. I see this very clearly among fellow graduates and lifelong friends from NOLS and WMI, who all embody good leadership, passion, and self-responsibility among
their peers.

On day three of our mountaineering course, the first day we traveled off-trail, a
massive snowstorm hit. We quickly learned about “post-holing”,
route finding in zero visibility, and what to do if you can’t find
the “x”. I am so grateful that one of the worst weather days came
early in the course. There were so many challenges at one time, it
did me absolutely no good to complain or cry. I could only focus on
learning how to light my MSR stove and properly set up the tent. I
learned to cope by controlling what I could about the situation and
accepting what I couldn’t. It does not serve any purpose to point out
the hailstones pummeling you in the face, because everyone else has
clearly noticed them as well.

My instructors set great examples to keep a positive attitude, and
optimism remains my main strategy towards overcoming challenges
in the front-country. Cold conditions were fun because they meant we
constantly did the Tazmanian Toe Tap or held Push-Up Contests to
keep warm. After four weeks I came to view
adversity as a natural part of the process. I looked forward to arduous
moving days—now, I think short on-trail hikes are even a bit boring!
Today, when I face
stressful times, I recognize that dwelling on the problems prevents
me from solving them. Life will always throw us challenges, but NOLS
taught me how to enjoy the opportunity to grow and learn.

1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

We hear the term "life changing" as a descriptor of a NOLS experience so often it is almost routine- a cliche. Such was my NOLS course in 1970. Though I could not have dreamed it those many years ago, an even more important life changing experience for me would be my daughter's similar experience in 2006. And so it continues. My last NOLS course: about 90 days ago- August 2012. In 1970 I thought NOLS was an expedition for a month- or a summer. I now know it is an expedition of a lifetime.

Client Served

Rating: 5

I took two courses from NOLS in the mid 70's - summer wilderness and winter mountaineering. To this day, I consider those experiences to be one of the defining moments of my life and one of the few things I've done that I'm truly proud of. The leadership lessons I learned I still use; the devotion to environmental issues is still strong with me, and I can still read a map. :) I encourage everyone I know to send their kids or grandkids to NOLS.

Client Served

Rating: 5

NOLS gives one the opportunity to challenge yourself in areas outside of your comfort zone. I really feel I’ve grown a lot from the back-country experiences I've had with NOLS and have been able to leverage them in my personal life.

Client Served

Rating: 5

NOLS is an amazing organization and the experince and lessons learned through one of their courses will last a lifetime. The lessons I learned from my NOLS experience 23 years ago are still with me today and impact my life in many ways. As a leader my NOLS experience taught me how to deal with adversity, uncertainty, and managing people with different attitudes and abilities. I also learned the importance of focusing on details to make sure jobs are completed accurately and safely. As an outdoor enthusiast NOLS taught me invaluable skills that I use on outdoor adventures to this very day.

1

Client Served

Rating: 5

The National Outdoor Leadership School is simply the best. Through hard work, learning, and real experience, NOLS Students improve themselves, and go on to improve their world. I went into this program a confused teenager: unfocused, disorganized, and unmotivated. I emerged a confident, competent, and capable leader in any setting i find myself in. Not only was my experience at NOLS outstanding, but experiences I have had following NOLS continue to amaze me. Taking into account that NOLS creates exemplary individuals, it should come to me at no surprise that i find myself frequently meeting other NOLS graduates and have come to understand that I am now part of a very beneficial NOLS Graduate Community. So reviewing NOLS... It seems pointless to me because only someone who has been through NOLS can know what it really means to have done so, and those people already know.

Client Served

Rating: 4

when i went on my NOLS trip i was skeptical and didn't know what to think but after my experience of two weeks in the wilderness of Idaho and Wyoming it was well worth it

Client Served

Rating: 5

NOLS is not what meets the eye. It is so much more!!! it taught me to be patient and to be a independent and mature into the adult i am now. Those 7 leaderships skills that we have been taught, memorized have not left me. I live by those skills. NOLS as changed my life for the better and i think all my family and friend know it. I came back stronger, maturer, simply a better person than i left. I have told so many people all the experiences i have been through. I learned from NOLS that pain is temporary, and wilderness is mandatory. As much as i love being home I know my true calling is out west where NOLS has changed my life.

Sam_9

Client Served

Rating: 5

I wouldn't give NOLS anything less than 5 stars. They are great at encourage vast amounts of growth in their students in so many ways. NOLS has helped me gain the ability to be more intentional about my life and to be a great leader, which ultimately also means being an active follower at times. But beyond all of that, I was given an even greater appreciation for the wilderness and a perspective on my life that I don't think many other groups can give.

Volunteer

Rating: 5

NOLS is unlike anything else. My experience with this program has helped me define the kind of person I want to be. While my experience only lasted three short months, I think about the relationships I built and the memories we all shared every day. The experiences I had through this program are unlike anything else, but somehow I find myself applying the things I learned in my daily life. NOLS taught me how to be a leader. It taught me how to make the most out of life and how to live in the present. I have been changed through this program and I could not be more grateful.

Client Served

Rating: 5

NOLS changed the direction of my life. It taught me how to be independent, how to speak up and how to ultimately be a leader in my life and at work. I went on my first student course when I was 22 and I went on my next course by getting a scholarship. I was the only female on a 30 day mountaineering course, it was during this time I learned how to face fear and still meet your goals. I learned how to speak up when I felt timid and shy, but I knew it was important to speak. I learn to trust my gut and make decisions that would create good outcomes. I then went on to teach for NOLS. I eventually went back to school to become a nurse, I now work in one of the best trauma hospitals on the west coast. I use all the skills that NOLS taught me to save the lives of my patients everyday. NOLS is a fantastic nonprofit which shapes the leaders of tomorrow.

Volunteer

Rating: 4

NOLS offers a positive, life changing experience. What are you waiting for?

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I helpled begin the relationship between NOLS and the US Naval Academy and have been working with them, and occassionally for them ever since. It has been a great character and leadership development tool not only for the many students I have worked with, but also for me. The staff is full of idealistic and fully engaged people who live what they believe. I'm a better person for having become involved with NOLS and the people I know there. Bob

Eric26

Client Served

Rating: 5

Of my 8 semesters during my undergraduate college career, the semester I spent at NOLS was far and away the most valuable. NOLS builds leaders. The course work helps students deepen an understanding of themselves and their capabilities. It gives them a depth of character to rely upon for the rest of their lives. Strangely, this is not accomplished through direct focus on esoteric ideas of leadership. Rather, the school challenges students with a curriculum focused on wilderness safety training and camping and traveling in the outdoors with minimal impact on the environment. The combination of those two concepts and working through them with a new small group of strangers creates an amazing environment. It allows people to learn, change and grow, and broadly become better people, able to interact with more different people in more challenging situations than most had originally conceived.

1

Donor

Rating: 5

The summer after graduating from college I took a 30 day NOLS course in the Wilderness of Wyoming.It was a game changer for me personally and I came away, not only with a new set of practical outdoor and expeditionary skills, but an environmental ethic that has informed my professional and personal life ever since. This organization influences the lives of many people every year and has a similar impact on them. It is unusual to find a non-profit that has had such consistent outcomes in terms of positively influencing people.

Professional with expertise in this field

Rating: 5

The quality of NOLS staff, nature places, expedition training, and leadership were outstanding on the two courses I completed in 1991 and 2006. I am a natural resource professional and a nature educator, and I gained both professionally and personally on each course. I believe in NOLS so much that I contribute to their scholarship fund each year. Anne, San Diego

General Member of the Public

Rating: 5

It has been 2 years from now and my NOLS course is still in fresh in my memory. The wallpaper on my computerscreen is one of the photos i took during the course and so are the posters in my bedroom. But wat still reminds me of this course every single day, other than the pictures, is the way it inspired me to think about life, nature and the wellbeing of the ones you care about most. Furthermore, the instructors knew exactly what they were doing which made me feel safe in the outdoors. I still have contact with my fellow NOLS students and I am now saving to go on another trip next summer. Taking part in a NOLS activity is indeed a life changing experience.

General Member of the Public

Rating: 5

I attended NOLS in 1997, participating in their Fall Semester in the Rockies. That semester helped shape me into the person I am today. Due to NOLS, I am confidant in my leadership abilities, constantly aware of my surroundings, and able to keep an open mind. These assets are invaluable. The staff is top notch. As far as non-profits, NOLS is at the top of my list. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to attend NOLS and will be a life long supporter. Grade A organization, in my book.

Client Served

Rating: 5

When I enrolled in a NOLS semester, I knew that the experience would be life-changing, but I never expected to gain so much from the course. I gained maturity, leadership skills and confidence that will serve me well for the rest of my life. I can honestly say that not a day goes by where I don't use the skills gained from my NOLS course. I would recommend NOLS without hesitation to anyone who is looking for a truly challenging and life-changing experience.

Client Served

Rating: 5

NOLS has changed my life in more ways than I ever imagined. It has provided me with technical skills that I can use back at home, but more than that it has presented me with a new way to look at the way I live, and the way others live. My NOLS semester gives me a beautiful, hopeful picture of the future. I found the importance of simplicity and minimalism, and compassion and respect. It is my greatest wish that everyone could be fortunate enough to experience what I experienced with NOLS.

Donor

Rating: 5

This organization changes lives, both young and old. It offeres experience and training unavailable anywhere else, and does so with an incredible integrity and commitment to its mission. I give both my time and my money to this organization because I believe it makes the world a better place, and enriches the lives of those who are fortunate enough to go on a NOLS trip.

Donor

Rating: 5

I have known NOLS sine 1989 when our eldest daughter attended "Spring Semester in the Rocky Mountains" - during her senior year in High School. While we were familiar with NOLS approach to the teaching of wilderness skills and ethics, we marveled at the affect this experience had on our daughter. I have often said, 'We brought a little girl to the airport in NY on the way to Lander WY, and 82 days later, a young woman greeted us on her return!". Our three other children have all done NOLS courses with identical results. I have taken 25 years and older courses as well as several alumni courses. I have found that NOLS unique approach to group dynamics through their focus on "Expedition Behavior" in not only successful in the wilderness, it works equally well at the family dinner table and the Board Room table. Pre-NOLS, I viewed the term, "Wilderness" and meaning government Land, now, it evokes the feeling of "My Land, My home to visit where ever I choose, as long as I leave it the way I find it!. I am happy and proud to commend to your readers this terrific non-profit, which also has an acute focus on fiscal responsibility and credibility. Sincerely, Fred J Kleisner

Advisor

Rating: 5

For more than 15 years, I have carried the leadership and technical skills training that I gained during my NOLS semester course into my personal life and professional career. Since then, I have gone on to take many more courses with the school, each time adding to my back country skills and improving my expedition behavior. And most importantly, each NOLS experience introduces students to a team of world -class outdoor educators.

Donor

Rating: 5

NOLS was the most significant semester of school I ever attended. The skills there have helped me succeed both personally and professionally as well as given me unique skills to enjoy new adventures into the outdoors.

Advisor

Rating: 5

Many years ago, I first heard of NOLS through a fellow Boy Scout leader, and filed the thought for a time when my daughters were older. A decade later my 15 year old daughter was having some problems at school that seemed to arise from low self confidence. I recalled my friend's comment about NOLS and after some encouragement and investigation my daughter decided to take a NOLS 30 day adventure course in Wyoming. The results were nothing less than amazing. My daughter departed as a self-centered child and returned as a self-confident young woman. Her love of the outdoors and the skills she learned from NOLS combined to become a life changing experience for her. After college, the same daughter went on a NOLS program to Tanzania. Through the Tanzania program reinforced the her self-confidence and outdoors skills and provided her a new and different perception of the world and strongly influenced her decision to get a master's degree in environmental science. From the time when I first dropped off my daughter in Lander, more than 15 years ago, I have wanted to personally participate in a NOLS program. The opportunity and my work load finally aligned and I was able to participate in a NOLS alumni program in Wyoming this past Summer. The time outdoors and the camaraderie were all that I had hoped for. I had a great time and heartily recommend NOLS programs for people of all ages.

Volunteer

Rating: 5

A wonderful school with committed teachers and administration. NOLS is a family tradition for me. I look forward to continuing this tradition as my family grows.

Client Served

Rating: 5

As a 1996 Course Alum, 2005 Family Trip Alum & Current Volunteer for NOLS (whose husband & brothers are all grads, as is a nephew), I can honestly say NOLS is an amazing, well run, forward thinking, example setting Non-profit organization.