Monday, April 13, 2015

Donation Based Classes - A Deceptive Practice

What Has Your $$ Done Lately? 

When you hear the word donation what comes to mind?  When your asked to donate to a cause, do you research where your money is going?

Recently we saw an article about the growing trend of donation based yoga classes in the DFW area.  The article was very vague and did not give much description as to where the donations actually went.  Upon researching further and asking what the money was being donated toward, we found a very unexpected and troubling answer.  In most instances the money donated was going directly into the pocket of the instructor.  

Learning that donations went to the instructor was very unsettling for us here at Twisted Bodies.  We believe that the studio is a physical space that embodies a respectful and supportive atmosphere, in which respect and support are exchanged by everyone.  This means we also believe that donations are an exchange that happens out of support and respect for a worthy cause.  Instructors are to be paid out of the overall business model and budget, not from the hand outs of clients.  Asking for a donation and not completely informing the donor as to where funds will be allocated is not only deceitful but also disrespectful and goes against the very grain of what mind body fitness modalities are about.  While the act of giving on part of the donor may be altruistic, this type of practice diminishes the value and integrity of mind body practioners across the nation.

Giving is as an act of kindness.  Completing acts of kindness are often rewarding in an intangible way to most people.  We give because we feel compelled to help and our hearts then become full.  Ask any Yoga or Pilates instructor what their motive for teaching is and the answer will almost always be "I want to help people."  Teaching others how to take care of their mind and body in tandem fills our hearts, it's the reason we get excited to see others accomplishments.  We share our knowledge with love and respect for those in front of us and expect nothing in return.  So why then are studios calling classes "donation based" when the money goes to the instructor?  

Some donation based studios are set up to resemble what many might refer to as pyramid scheme.  For example a local studio has their donation set up designed as such:

The instructor collects donations for classes and then pays a fixed fee per time slot to the studio.  The studio then pays from the collection all of the financial responsibilities: rent, maintenance, utilities, taxes, and loans from the bank.  This is no different than having each participant pay a flat rate for classes, therefore it is no longer a donation.  A donation is generally tax deductible, and those accepting donations must be set up as a non for profit in order to accept funds in accordance with federal and state law.

Others refer to themselves as a cooperative organization.  However, when you dig down through the dollar signs, regulations, and decimals; what you find is a business.  The instructors are making enough to get by and the studio and studio owners are profiting.  Profit is realistic for a business and for a business model that is set up well.  In order to keep doors open, lights on and classes functioning a studio needs to make a profit to continue.  It's simple business and the bottom line for small business.  The consumer expects this and takes part in it knowingly, there is no need to falsely advertise or drive people into classes under creative marketing schemes.  Simply set your business plan up accordingly and create an environment people enjoy and they will keep coming for the service and product you are providing.    

Through our continued research we found that other studios refer to their donation based classes as "pay what you can" because they feel "yoga should be free for everyone".  This is a great concept, which would allow people of any class or background to attend with out the monetary pressures of a regular membership.  However, after researching further "pay what you can" really meant pay what the studio suggests, with the suggested donation being $10 - $20.  Currently the average cost of a yoga class in the U.S. is between $10 - $20.  Would they turn someone away if they said they could only pay $2?  Additionally, it states on the website of many Yoga studios that donation based does NOT mean FREE.  It further states "we require some form of payment be made per class to compensate the teacher."  Call me crazy but I thought that's what my class fee was for?  So my donation is going where exactly?

The more research we did on donation based classes, the more we felt let down by people in our community.  On a public forum we read where one individual asked "is it okay to leave nothing one day and leave a larger donation the next time?"  The studio replied back with "Unfortunately, this is not a desirable option as each teacher is compensated based on the donations for each class taught."  Donation based classes at Twisted Bodies are taught by instructors who volunteer and donate their time to a worthy cause.  The instructor is compensated through their act of kindness and their regularly scheduled classes, not through the donations.

Twisted Bodies will always label their classes accordingly, if it is a FREE class it will state FREE, meaning we expect no monetary reward just the enjoyment of your company in class.  If it is a donation based class, we will state where the funds are designated to go.  Because of our partnership with Susan G. Komen of North Texas, a large majority of our fundraising goes directly to support breast cancer research in the North Texas area.  At different times through out the year however, we will hold classes where all funding goes to a specific cause such as a school, an organization we identify with, or an immediate need such as an individual who has been through a tragic event.

The deeper we dug, the more we called and asked, the more unsettling the answers became.  This weighed heavy on our hearts and after much prayer and meditation we felt an urgency to share this information with the public.  With this new found information the community can then ask where their money is going specifically and choose accordingly where they would like to donate.  It creates a transparency between studio and community.  The more we looked for answers the more we had questions.  In an effort to answer our own questions on this topic, here is the information we found, we ask that you just let the information soak in and resonate with your inner voice before deciding how you feel on what a donation based class should be.

What is a donation?

  1. something that is given to a charity, especially a sum of money.
    "a tax-deductible donation of $200"
    • the action of donating something.

Some might argue that people attending these classes are donating to the instructor for their shared knowledge.  This would be acceptable if the studio stated in writing that donations made for the class go to the instructor.  Most often what we found is a class labeled "donation based" with no description of who, what or where the donated funds would go.  Labeling a class as donation based and not designating where the money is going publicly is very misleading.  Additionally, this misleading and manipulative practice hurts studios that are giving back to charities and the community.  Utilizing the ideas of Yoga to manipulate financial gain is morally, ethically wrong and defies the code of conduct that many Yoga Instructors promise to live by.  

If funding from donations are being placed into the pockets of instructors it would be more appropriate to call these Tip Based Classes or Collection Based Classes.  Thus giving way to the needed transparency between instructors, studios, and clients.

What is a tip or collection?

noun: tip; plural noun: tips
  1. 1.
    a sum of money given to someone as a reward for their services.
noun: collection
  1. 1.
    the action or process of collecting someone or something.

A tip is something given in return for service well done.  Calling these classes Tip Based Classes, would be much more appropriate, if you feel the class was good you can pay the instructor accordingly for their service.  Calling them a collection based class, is also more descriptive of the practice.  For example a studio could say "At the end of each class there will be a collection of funds to cover the cost of instruction today."  This would be similar and familiar to most anyone who has or is attending a church service.  This would correctly identify the classes in their true financial standing.

Calling a class a donation based class misleads the person who is attending to believe that the funding is going to a cause outside of the instructor and studio.  Why would you make a donation to something you already pay a fee for?  It would be understandable if the studio stated "We are collecting donations to cover the cost of new mats."  With a clear description the donating party knows exactly what their money is being used for.  Properly labeling classes and funding creates an honest and transparent atmosphere for everyone and allows for a level of integrity that will be much more respected.

If continued and accepted by the community using deceptive descriptions such as "donation based" for classes where money goes to the instructor damages the value and integrity of studios who do not engage in this practice.  Yoga, Pilates, and all other boutique based fitness is a business.  There are fees that have to be covered, bills that must be paid, operating expenses and budget needs to stay open for people to enjoy.  So label classes accordingly and correctly.  If you are seeking payment to cover the instructor then call it a tip or collection based class.  Let donation be used to only describe those classes to which a true donation is really being made.  For example "This Sunday at Noon is Donation Based Acro Yoga class, all proceeds to benefit [Insert Charity Name Here]".  Don't mislead people into paying for your services.  If they enjoy your instruction, the environment your create, and feel appreciated they will value your time and knowledge and pay you accordingly.

What do donation based class offerings do for the industry?

If they are labeled accordingly and utilized for the correct intention, they will help build respect within the industry and blaze a path for a greater good.  However, if we aspire for yoga teaching to be a career path that allows for a sustainable income there must be boundaries placed on how these classes are presented.  Additionally, labeling things as donation opens up the door to legal ramifications on all levels from local to federal.  Studios across the nation are already in the hot seat with the IRS on how they are defining their instructors and how they are processing payroll.  Audits by the IRS are already ongoing and many studios are being forced to pay hefty penalties for tax evasion and more.  The "donation based" practice opens the door for more investigations and more penalties.  Especially if the studio or instructor uses this for tax purposes.  Additionally, how about the penalty for a client who uses this as a tax write off?  As studio owners, we feel it is our job to always protect our clients and have their best interest in mind when they are in our care.

We feel it is our duty within our profession to insist upon and be leaders in raising the professional standards among mind body practioners.  It is important that we relate to and care for those among our community and extended community.  Global change only happens with personal change, it's a domino effect and our job is to keep that inertia moving.  Compassion is a wonderful and beautiful thing when channeled appropriately and honestly.  As instructors who want this to be a sustainable and respected career path, we must choose when, where, and how to donate our time.  With donated time the funding can go to a more appropriate source.  As business owners we must also strive to pay our instructors accordingly, most people do not have the luxury to make a meager wage for their time and knowledge. We have seen countless times where instructors teach a multiple locations or hold various jobs to make ends meet doing what they love and enjoy.  In a society dependent on commerce financial stability is a must and a studio with good financial stability will be better able to serve and on a much larger scale.

As instructors we spend numerous dollars and ridiculous hours on our education.  We continue with courses even after certification to stay on top of the newest scientific research and to deepen our knowledge of the body.  This allows us to better serve our clientele and share with them our unending knowledge.  Instructors must be compensated appropriately for their education and time.  If we continue to offer yoga and pilates on a tip or collection basis it effectively begins to drive down the value of instruction.  It equates to the quality of instruction being sacrificed for economy.  Classes become over crowded and instruction begins to dwindle.  In the end it all boils down to respect, an unequivocal equal exchange of respect by all parties and to self.

Our Commitment and Our Promise 

Twisted Bodies will always label their classes accordingly, if it is a FREE class it will state FREE, meaning we expect no monetary reward just the enjoyment of your company in class.  If it is a donation based class, we will state where the funds are designated to go.  Classes that are covered by payment will always be quality educated instruction delivered by someone who cares.  We strive to train bodies intelligently and we care about our community.  

As a participant in a donation based class you have a right to ask where your money is going, so please ASK!  As instructors we feel it is our duty to always be up front and honest with you, we promise that money from donations collected will ALWAYS go to the charity to which that money is designated before hand.  Twisted Bodies donates regularly to Susan G. Komen, Denton Schools, School Organizations, Argyle Schools and Organizations, Habitat for Humanity, Denton Animal Shelter, and more.  We will also respect your choice to not donate.  Donating is a choice, what you donate to should match your values and beliefs.

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