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Is Charity a dirty word? Part 2

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A couple of weeks ago I started to write a series of blog posts inspired by Dan Pallotta’s TED Talk “The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong”. Apologies for the delay in this, the second instalment, about the role of the Executive Director. Enjoy!

Now for the fun stuff; What do I do? The Executive Director’s salary takes up a big chunk of the money YO brings in. “Hey! That means it’s not going to program delivery!” you might say. “Those are ‘administrative or operating costs’! My donation isn’t helping the needy!”

Administrative or operating costs are not bad, charities can’t operate with out administrators. How would you expect a charity to build infrastructure, capacity, and  financial sustainability to support program delivery without any paid staff?

Can you bake a cake without a pan?

Think of the role of the Executive Director as the role of the pan. You need a container in which to build your delicious cake. Like your cake pan, the ED holds all the ingredients and shapes the finished product.

The ED is responsible for:

  • Giving direction to the organizations mission, values, and strategic vision
  • Ensuring the organization operates according to established mandate, philosophy, and policy
  • Providing leadership and guidance to the Board of Directors, staff, contractors, and volunteers
  • Building and maintaining relationships with funders, community partners, members, and stakeholders
  • Overseeing the direction and implementation of all program components and leading all levels of operations
  • Directing all fundraising planning and implementation
  • Directing all financial management (overseeing all financial, budgetary, and administrative aspects of the organization)

Here’s what I find troubling: Even though it is pretty clear how critical the role of the ED is to the success of an organization, it is next to impossible to secure grant funding for this crucial piece of any non-profit’s puzzle. The vast majority of grant funding is single year and program based, often only for new programs rather than supporting existing ones.

Going back to Dan Pallotta’s awesome TED talk, which is what inspired me to write this series in the first place, I’d like to point out that in the year before I became the ED for Yoga Outreach I was volunteering 10 – 15 hours each week in addition to my 40 hour a week management job outside YO. Why? Because I believe in the cause. But it wasn’t something I could have sustained, my relationships were suffering and YO was suffering because it didn’t have a leader at the helm.

Now, 18 months into my role as the ED, the change is remarkable. A complete overhaul of our financial infrastructure has YO operating with peak efficiency in program management and allocation of funds. We have an engaged Board of Directors, we are  bringing in revenue from our Teacher’s Training courses, and we are starting to develop new programs seemingly everyday. Our reach just keeps expanding. None of this would have happened without the leadership of a full time Administrator. None of it.

Yoga Outreach began 17 years ago, as a labour of love, supported by yoga teachers who taught from a place of love. They felt they received much more than they gave. Working within Yoga Outreach taught them the joy of giving, receiving, and opening their hearts.

This remains one of the guiding principles of YO, but today we also have a vision for the future. Yoga Outreach is working to build capacity for yoga as a complementary therapy in social service settings across the board. We are working to bring the skills and tools of yoga and mindfulness into the toolboxes of youth support workers, health care workers, counsellors, recreation therapists, probation officers and anyone else who works with vulnerable, at-risk, or marginalized adults and youth.

YO is dedicated to advocating, within the yoga community, a trauma-sensitive, strengths-based approach to teaching, to teaching the person, not the form, and to recognizing that we never know who is on the mat in front of us, and what that person has been through.

YO is working to create access to yoga for even the most isolated and disadvantaged person so that they too might experience a moment of wholeness on the mat.

You know yoga changes lives… it changed yours

About the Author

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volunteer yoga vancouver
“It’s inspiring to watch the clients see a program through and move onto next stage, progress, become empowered, centered and strong. To be in savasana without opening their eyes, fully relaxed and still, letting go. The women have become strong before my eyes, and its amazing to be a part of..." - Volunteer Instructor, Addictions Treatment Centre.