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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

4 Stories from Volunteers, Donors & Supporters



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.


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.


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


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.