Mary-Louise Parkinsonmy association life:
mary-louise parkinson

In our first Q&A with Australian association managers on the state of the sector, we catch up with Mary-Louise Parkinson, President of the International Yoga Teachers Association (IYTA).

What is IYTA’s mission statement?

The IYTA is an international organisation founded in Australia in 1967 by Roma Blair. The IYTA aims to promote the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual benefits of yoga for everybody, regardless
of age, sex, ability or disability, ethnicity or religion. Our activity is to conduct yoga teacher training and ongoing support for members.

The Association upholds the highest ethics and safety when yoga teaching and professional conduct for its members. The IYTA is a registered yoga school with Yoga Alliance (USA) and Yoga Australia.

You held a number of corporate roles earlier in your career. How does association management compare?

My background is in IT, having worked with companies such as Apple, Commodore and Cisco Systems in senior management, channel development and marketing. Association management is like running a small business. It’s much more hands-on.

As President I have an overview of the entire organisation, every course and everyone involved. It’s more “family” oriented. We are professional but also empathic, flexible and aim to help members of our team up-skill to the job at hand. It’s a very enjoyable manner of management, rather than year on year increasing profitability, end of quarter results or share price focussed.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of association management?

The ability to bring about change without having a focus on how much money we make. The focus instead is on ensuring our members are looked after, that they receive good value for their continuing loyalty to the association, and that our graduates receive quality education and ongoing support.

What’s the biggest challenges IYTA faces?

Yoga is a very big sector of the health market now. Our challenge is ensuring we stay true to our core values and ethics while the industry grows and sorts through its growing pains and problems. IYTA needs to stay strong and firm regarding high ethical values and quality training and support, despite much cheaper and less ethical conduct in the industry.

What’s your most effective means of engaging with members?

Our most effective engagement with our members, other than face to face, is our regular printed newsletter. The newsletter has been in publication for over 45 years and is much appreciated by many of our older members, who are less active online. Other than that our regular conferences draw a lot of members and attract leading presenters from around the world.

What’s one thing that IYTA does well that other associations could learn from?

By far our strongest point is our Code of Ethics. This isn’t just a document that sits in the drawer. We use this as the basis of a lecture on our Diploma course to help teachers understand how the values enshrined in it can be put into practice every day and continue to be relevant. We also abide by these values at association level.

Is there anything you think associations struggle more broadly with?

I see many non-profits struggle with how to deal with volunteers. Our policy is to ensure that volunteers have a clear role description, a term of office, a code of ethics and – if holding major roles – a small monthly payment, whether that be $100, $200 or $500 per month. This ensures that the volunteer takes
the role seriously and that they are aware of the commitment to the organisation before they commence. By having a clear role description and reporting structure, the volunteer is clearer on what is expected of them.

How vibrant do you perceive the association space in Australia to be?

I believe we probably have too many associations in Australia. I heard Tim Costello being interviewed
recently on ABC regarding this and I agree with him that we would probably be better off consolidating a lot of our non-profits and associations. There’s too much duplication of effort, and often ego or power struggles get in the way of looking at what is actually best for the members.

This Q&A featured in the first issue of Access1st's Association Professional magazine. If you'd like to get hold of a copy of Association Professional, it couldn't be easier. It's available for a free download, which takes just a moment.

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