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Is Charity a Dirty Word? Part 1

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Last week I watched Dan Pallotta’s TED Talk “The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong”. I was barely 5 minutes into it when I was inspired to begin the blog post you are about to read. Here’s what I wanted to do: give people a snapshot of some of the aspects of operating Yoga Outreach. We have a lot of really wonderful supporters who give regularly in support of what we do but to be honest it’s not enough and I am often faced with difficult choices about how to allocate precious time and energy to meet needs that continually outstrip our resources.

If you haven’t seen it here’s a link it is well worth watching.

“Why do you need money if all your teachers are volunteers?” If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been asked that I wouldn’t be rich but I bet I’d have about a hundred bucks.

At first this question dumbfounded me. Then it perplexed me. Now it just makes me angry. In a relatively short period of time I have come to think of “charity” as a dirty word.

So, let’s break this down…

-Fact: Yoga Outreach operates with a substantial contribution of volunteer labour, to the tune of about $85K a year.

-Fact: Yoga Outreach receives $0 income from it’s yoga programs, known as Reaching Out with Yoga (ROWY).

So, exactly what sorts of costs are incurred to make a ROWY program happen?

-Fact: Each prospective YO program is screened prior to being provided with a volunteer. This involves an application form submitted to our Program Coordinator (who is a paid part time employee). Upon
receiving the application she verifies that the program is a fit for our mandate, that clients will not be charged, that they have somewhere to store props, that they have insurance, that the location is safe for our volunteers, that our volunteers will have on site support if necessary. This process may take several emails, phone calls, and a site visit. And that is all before she even begins the process of finding props and a volunteer.

$0 in, 6 – 8  hours of labour out.

-Fact, each prospective YO volunteer is screened prior to being approved. This involves an application form submitted to our Program Coordinator after completing our Core Training. Upon receiving the application she verifies all the information and interviews the candidate and 3 references. Once approved, candidates must attend a minimum of two practicum sessions (but up to 6), depending on their level of teaching experience. Only after a candidate has been screened and mentored does the Coordinator begin the process of finding an appropriate placement. This can be a lengthy series of back and forth’s between facilities and volunteers trying to find a schedule that fits for every one.

Core Training tuition in $288, 6 – 8 hours of labour out

So let’s assume for arguments sake at this point we have expended 16 hours of labour to get a program ready to start.  We have received $288 for the Core Training, divide that by 16, assuming we pay the Coordinator $18 per hour, we break even right?

Wrong. We had to pay the facilitator for the Core Training. We had to rent a space to hold the training. We had to print off manuals and handouts. We had to have tea and treats on hand, yogis like tea and treats. So let’s say that the actual take away is $138 after all the expenses.

We have already blown through that $138.

Now, what about actually getting the program up and running? With every new program there is a start up period that requires fairly constant support to get it going. This involves phone calls and emails with the volunteer and the facility staff. It involves going to the program site and talking with clients and program staff about yoga. It involves making and printing posters and sometimes brochures, it involves mats and blocks (no we don’t buy them, we run around town
collecting used mats from studio lost and founds, so tack on another couple of hours).

So now we are running at a substantial deficit; we’ve gone well over the $138 the volunteer’s tuition brought in.

-Fact, each new program we set up requires between 36 and 50 hours just to get it up and running.

-Fact, we currently have 22 programs that run once a week. That’s 36 volunteers and 22 program staff members. These programs don’t run themselves. Teacher’s need to debrief when they have challenges. They need sub’s. Facility staff need to be encouraged. Discussions about increasing attendance need to take place. Feedback forms need to be processed. Disputes need to be mediated. Hurt feelings need to be soothed. The changing needs of clients need to be addressed. This is in addition to meeting any new programming needs. This takes up a minimum of 12 hours a week.

-Fact, YO organizes monthly events for YO teachers to connect and share a class. We also organize ongoing trainings for special interest topics and host quarterly Volunteer Appreciation events. So let’s estimate that takes 6 hours a month plus rental costs and supplies etc.

Our Coordinator works on average 54 hours a month and none of the programs we have would be up and running 6 months from now without her.
Any volunteers?

Stay tuned for next week when I talk about the role of the Executive Director…

About the Author

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Burnaby Youth Custody Centre
For as little as $15 a month, less than a drop in yoga class, you can ensure that youth and adults in mental health facilities, prison or youth custody, alcohol and drug treatment centers, women and children who have experienced violence, or adults suffering from early onset dementia, have access to the powerful and healing practices of yoga and meditation, providing a method to reclaim their minds and bodies, to self regulate, and to connect with people in their community.