Today, on International Yoga Day, we speak to Shyamala Benakovic who heads up Yoga Australia. Yoga Australia is a non-profit on a mission to make yoga safer for everyone involved. This national organisation operates on both sides of the yoga mat. It looks after the needs of yoga teachers and students alike – and hopes to become the national peak body in Australia.
Here, Shyamala talks about how to run a non-profit organisation across a large geographic footprint. She also emphasises why a hands-on board can make all the difference.
“Yoga Australia was established in 1999 by a group of yoga teachers in Victoria, who were concerned about how yoga was being defined and taught back then,” explains Shyamala from her Melbourne-based office.
“The group put together an independent framework around these standards. Teachers train within this framework; helping them to deliver a safer class.”
Since this vision sprung into action, the organisation has aspired to become the government-registered peak body for yoga in Australia. Their mission is to help students and teachers to practise safer yoga with responsibility.
Working across a large geographic footprint
To foster this national vision, Shyamala holds a high regard for the volunteer teams who help to drive it each day. She’s also the first to admit there were some early learning curves when it came to retaining volunteer staff across a largely virtual platform.
“Because of our geographic disparity we knew it was important to clearly position what we do and what our values are right from day one of our volunteer’s induction,” she says. “From there, it’s been really important to keep volunteers continually engaged, through continual recognition that reflects their commitment.
“On a day to day basis, we use Google Hangouts, Skype, Gmail, and dropbox to communicate effectively,” says Shyamala. “To facilitate this communication we meet physically at regular intervals and also with the Executive Committee, who are very hands-on.”
Stepping up the numbers
The financials haven’t escaped this robust cloud-based approach, with Shyamala electing to switch accounting platforms soon after she joined the organisation. “We were using a desktop platform at the time. But we needed more transparent reporting, so that anyone could log on and access information relevant to them.”
“The choice to use Xero has worked out well for us,” she continues. “It’s really easy to reconcile our accounts, which come directly from our bank statements.”
Wherever possible, they have automated backend systems to save time and costs. For example Shyamala has integrated member payments directly into Xero. By doing this she has created a best practice example that other member-driven organisations can follow.
“We have an integration into our member database so that all new members automatically have a Xero invoice raised. This saves so much time.”
Defining the future
Logistics aside, what does the big picture around success look like to this organisation in five years? “Yoga Australia is looking to become a government-registered peak body,” she says.
“Despite the dilution in standards in yoga – where people may be keen to train quickly – we have stood strong since the start. We have insisted on these standards to convey the awareness that yoga is about more than just a set of physical postures.”
“We will be lobbying quite hard to be recognised as a peak body in this respect. Furthermore we will collaborate with likeminded organisations who share this agenda with us, to protect the safety of everyone involved.”