for $13/hour, you could run a yoga service organization

for $13/hour, you could run a yoga service organization

If you live in the Seattle, WA area and are looking for fulfilling yoga and social justice work, you’re in luck: Street Yoga, a nonprofit which provides yoga and mindfulness tools to youth experiencing homelessness, poverty, addiction, abuse and trauma, is hiring an Assistant Director. The part-time position pays $13/hour.

The Assistant Director of Street Yoga’s Seattle office will support the work of the current Director, and then act as Interim Director while the Director is on maternity leave (from December until the spring – four or five months, which is not much time with a new baby). For $13/hour.

According to the job posting, the Assistant/Interim Director will be responsible for a whole long list of administrative, program and development duties, including strategic planning, managing the budget, providing financial reports, supporting volunteer teachers, planning workshops, organizing fundraisers, writing grants, and bolstering relationships with donors, yoga studios and business sponsors. Did I mention the pay is $13/hour?

This really isn’t about taking down Street Yoga – they’re a great organization with an important mission. Times are tough, and they run almost entirely on donations from individuals and businesses, grants, and revenue from workshops/trainings. For many years, it’s likely that founder Mark Lilly (who started the organization in Portland in 2002) didn’t even receive any salary for his hours and hours of work.

This is about starting a conversation about fair compensation for people who work in the service yoga community. There is service, but there is also the reality of urban North American existence. The community of people who provide yoga for underserved populations is at risk of underpaying the people who do the work.

Of course, this is a problem throughout the nonprofit field. As a commentor noted on the IAYB Facebook page, “Donors don’t want their money going to overhead, but people fail to understand that paying a fair wage to the staff is not only ethical, but also the best way to serve the mission with any sort of quality!”

Even by comparisons within the non-profit field, this is extremely low pay for a position with so much responsibility. The median salary for an Assistant Director of a nonprofit in Seattle (with two years experience in the field) is $44,000/year.

$13/hour for 15 hours/week is less than $800/month (before taxes). At full time capacity (40 hours/week), that’s just over $24,000/year. The position appears to offer no health or dental benefits, although it does include 45 hours (not days, hours) of vacation time.

Fortunately, $13/hour is a living wage for a single adult in Seattle (the cutoff is $9.64/hour). The position could draw somebody in their 20s, who loves yoga and has lots of energy, enthusiasm and drive, without a family to support. The problem, however, is that Street Yoga sets itself up to attract people with a certain amount of privilege as well.

The yoga service scene is still young and finding its feet. Organizations are still struggling with the basics of sustaining themselves. Let’s hope that Street Yoga continues doing the essential and groundbreaking work that it’s been doing for the past 10 years – and is able provide fair compensation for the people who carry out the work.

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  1. Considering that most people doing yoga service work make zero dollars an hour, $13 is not so bad. There are some notable exceptions, but generally yoga service is a low-to-no money making proposition. I’m not saying that this is a good thing, as it obviously leads to burnout, lack of sustainability, limitations as to who can do the work, etc. But, as an empirical matter of where the field is right now, my sense would be that Street Yoga is doing better than most here.

  2. Thanks for bringing this up. I thought the same thing when I saw Iyengar SF post this for an *experienced* UNPAID intern who designs, photographs events, edits, and god knows what else:

    – Design flyers, posters and other branded print materials
    – Assist in the promotion of classes, workshops and events via print and web
    – Collect, edit, organize and manage media assets
    – Continually search for and create new media to represent organization
    – Photograph special events and provide other administrative support as needed

    On one listing they offer “free classes WITH LIMITATIONS, ” in this one, none at all:

    This would be illegal if it weren’t a non-profit. Still, as you point out, it’s not right. There are at least 8 separate job titles in that listing. Not a great example to set.

  3. Unfortunately, this is what is going on in our industry. There are so many people teaching yoga now, a yoga studio on every corner, and so many people who will do things around the studio for free, that there is more supply then demand. Even though this organization is not a studio, it is still apart of a saturated industry. I know several studios that have people doing PR, social media, and managing for free or almost free. I have been asked to manage for free. It is sad but honestly, I don’t know if there is any going back. Maybe the popularity of yoga will slow down and supply and demand will work more on the side of the teachers and studio employees. Who knows.

  4. “The position could draw somebody in their 20s, who loves yoga and has lots of energy, enthusiasm and drive, without a family to support.”

    I used to work with social justice groups and this philosophy was repugnant to me. Pull them in with the carrot of doing good, take advantage of them and burn them out and on to the next recruits.

    When you advocate for a better world, paying and treating your own staff well should be part of it. Pity so many donors are adverse to the notion of treating non-profit workers with the same compassion they would themselves and those who are meant to help.

  5. For me it would have made a big difference reading this article, to know whether the founder of Street Yoga, Mark Lily, did or did not have any type of income, starting up and if he did not receive a salary, how he funded the start-up years.
    I personally have donated many hours of yoga service over the last few years, as both a way for me to gain experience as a newly certified yoga instructor, as well as to be able to participate in living the yoga philosophy of Seva. I looked for opportunities that were hiring volunteer yoga instructors and/or created them. I am so thankful and grateful for the teaching opportunity that these Seva positions afforded to me, not only in what I have learned about teaching yoga, but to all of the students who I have met and have learned from. What I didn’t know and what I have not heard/learned so far in any YTT, is that wonderful communities are formed through coming together and practicing yoga, relationships are built and sustained through being able to trust the space and people with whom you practice. Now I know and hope to one day be able to impart that knowledge to any future students that I may train in a YTT, through encouraging them to practice Seva or service yoga, at every point in their yoga teaching career, despite whatever lucrative payments they may receive as yoga teachers.
    There are going to be times in a yoga teacher’s life where the low pay will not matter and there will be other times and job responsibilities where it should and does matter. It’s disturbing to see how young/new yoga teachers may be exploited, but as the yoga world in North America is still young too, we can look forward to the ability of both the new teachers/yoga studios/volunteer organizations to grow together, in order to compensate fairly. The intern concept is a corporate concept and that application in the yoga world is unappealing, despite it’s widespread use, as stated in one of the comments above re: Iyengar postings for experienced unpaid interns.
    The future of the fairness of pay for service in the yoga world in North America will depend on how actively all teachers are involved in creating meaningful guidelines that have authority in fiscal matters of hiring.

  6. Also don’t forget, Elephant Journal, which has been exploiting writers and interns to work for free for years.

  7. Hi Roseanne,

    As the sole current staff person in the Seattle Branch of Street Yoga, I wanted the opportunity to comment on your post. You bring up very good points about fair compensation, and equally if not more importantly, the impact compensation has on how privileged one has to be to be able to take on certain work. These are such important issues, and ones that we are working very hard at Street Yoga to address.

    I wanted to clarify a few things that were mentioned in your article:

    The Seattle Branch is responsible for its own fundraising, separate from the HQ office in Portland, as it’s own branch. We just started in 2010 with no budget. Nada. We would love to pay $44,000 salaries (I would love that level of compensation!), but that is more than our *entire* budget has *ever* been. Literally. We are operating on a very small amount of funds. We have no office space. We can’t provide computers and printers to staff. $13/hr is quite literally all we can afford right now, and our goal was to be able to cover my position when I’m on maternity leave so our current programs don’t disappear, and allow me to job share with someone when I return part-time so institutional knowledge is not lost. Since the other person will be working part-time for the most part, that person can supplement income with another part-time job (and that is the plan for now).

    We absolutely plan to change this. Our goal is to improve our fundraising so that we’re able to pay fair wages to the folks who do this work, and to diversify who is able to afford to do this work. We’re just not there yet. It takes time to build an organization’s funding and none of us were previously fundraisers. We came to the work because of a deep belief in the mission. Our plan is to grow all positions at Street Yoga so that all staff receive fair wages and benefits, and so that future staff positions are truly possible for people who do need to get paid more to make ends meet (which is, of course, most people).

    Mark Lilly is the founder, but he is on the board and does not receive income for his many hours of board work. He does receive a stipend for his time running trainings, which includes traveling to cities across the county and being away from home for weekends, but no salary. No one is getting rich of off this work and simply choosing not to pay higher wages or provide health care.

    Lastly, the 45 hours of vacation was only for when the new staff is working 15 hours per week. That is 3 weeks of paid time off (vacation and/or sick leave as desired), with no requirement to work a certain number of hours before using leave. The paid time off is pro-rated when the staff takes on more hours as interim director (so if the staff person needs to take off three weeks during that time, and is working 40 hrs/wk, s/he’d have 120 hours of leave).

    I want to assure you that I do greatly appreciate this conversation. It’s important that all workers, especially in the non-profit sector, are paid fairly and able to support themselves. It’s important that service work is not limited to those with financial and other privilege. I passionately agree. It’s important that we continue to talk about these issues so things change! Please know that we are on the same page. We are strategizing how to raise funds more effectively. We are trying to figure out how we can get our budget to the place where we can make these goals a reality. We’re learning about fundraising as we go, while a great deal of our time is spent on programming. It’s a work in progress. We welcome all ideas to help us make these goals a reality. If we come together as a community, we can make it happen.

    with warm wishes,

    • hi stephanie ~ thank you so much for your thoughtful response. i definitely understand street yoga’s situation, and realize that you’re operating on a small budget. i’ve also worked in the non-profit sector for many years and know that low wages and large workloads are endemic. best of luck with your fundraising efforts and let’s hope for fair compensation for all in the future!