“Give what you can afford, or what is in your heart,” is a phrase often heard at Just B Yoga studio in Lansing, Michigan. Owner Belinda Thurston started her donation-based yoga studio after taking classes at various locations. She felt that there was a need to serve others with yoga, and she could meet it.
MSM: Why did you decide to open a donation-based studio?
BT: It began out of a desire to make yoga accessible and affordable to a better cross-section of a community. I find that a lot of studios within a business model price themselves out of making yoga something everybody can afford to do. I didn’t want to be a part of making yoga something only for certain groups of people. If I give people the opportunity to pay what you can afford or what is in their heart, they are being an active participant in choosing the value based on their income and what is available to them.
MSM: How do you determine the pay for teachers? Has it changed with time?
BT: We started in the first few years or so with not a lot of revenue flowing. I was still working full time and I did a lot of merit equity of using my own money to keep the business afloat. Eventually we gave the teachers a percentage of the donations from the classroom, that was how they were paid. Over the years, it evolved and I was able to start to pay a flat rate because it wasn’t very fair if a teacher had a class of 10 people, but there were only $20 of donations — that didn’t seem like a fair price point for a pay scale for a class. We then settled on paying a flat rate for teachers.
The key to generating enough revenue to do this was diversifying the revenue stream so that everything isn’t donation based. I have a couple of specialty programs, like my private sessions, that aren’t donation based. I also teach trauma-informed yoga for survivors of sexual trauma. They are customized programs that are contracted out by various agencies. When you diversify your revenue you aren’t as reliant on the day-to-day goal of the studio to pay the rent, insurance, marketing and all the other things involved to have a full-time, brick-and-mortar studio.
MSM: Do you ever struggle with people not wanting to donate and end up using you for free yoga?
BT: With the appeal of the social mission of Just B Yoga, there comes a certain willingness to be a part of this social experiment to contribute. Only around 15 percent give $5 or less, which isn’t bad. Are there people taking advantage of it? No. What became apparent is that people who want to come to a donation-based class are not necessarily wanting to get one over on you, they want to give something and contribute. People who just hop from studio to studio for free classes, is like a person who goes to the mall for the free samples of food. They aren’t valuing anything about it. That isn’t who comes to our studio, nor is it the kind of community I want to be creating.
MSM: Do you have advice for studios who are considering going donation-based?
BT: I don’t feel that it works to take a studio that is in a posh suburb and turn it into a donation-based studio. You are not going to appeal to the people who absolutely need that financial accessibility. They don’t live there. If you have an earnest desire to do this work, you need to take the work to the communities that can use it. Maybe make a satellite of what you do, but in a community center. You are still providing the same quality of teaching you provide in your other areas, but you are bringing it to less-privileged areas. You have to look at who you are serving and what your intention is. You could even convert two to three classes a week to donating revenues to different charities.