Canvassing orgs--scam or legit?

I applied for a job recently, and the experience set of all sorts of alarm bells in my head. The position is with the Campaign to Save the Environment of the Fund for Public Interest Research. The position was heavily advertized in the local paper and on the nearby college campus. When I got there, I was asked if I was there for the orientation. (First red flag.) Next I was put in a room with two members of the organization and a small number of other applicants and were told about the organization, the work that is done (going door to door to recruit mebers for various liberal and environmental groups), and then asked to fill out applications while watching a video about how great the organization is and how easy it is to advance. (Second and third red flags.) Pay is based entirely on the amount of money we raise, a fact that was slightly glossed over by allusion to a mostly fictitious “base pay.” (We only get the base pay if we raise a certain aount each week.) The amout we get is a rather surprisingly high percentage of what we bring in. After the video, we were taken individually and were (in my case, at least) lobbed soft-ball questions, and then hired on the spot. I was also told that I would be immediately put on track for training to be a manager.

All of this is textbook-standard practice for multi-level marketing gimmicks, and I’ve encountered it before. I felt as if I was being sold a job rather than evaluated for one, which of course is only the case when the (real) job description reads “sucker.” I’m desperately affraid that I’ll soon be told that the real money comes from recruiting other people to work under me. (Which of course is the definition of multi-level marketing.)

On the other hand–the organization works with (AFAIK) respectable groups like Sierra Club and the Human Rights Campaign, which presumably wouldn’t want to be represented by a shady pyramid scheme company. The video included people like Michael Moore and Congresswoman Jan Schakowski, who presumably wouldn’t allow such an organization to use their images. (Of course not all people and organizations are careful to investigate who they associate with or who uses their names without permission.) The jobs seemed to be aimed primarily at college kids looking for short-term summer work, and pay by commission might be legitimate for this sort of thing. (I’ve heard people gethering signatures for petitions regularly get paid by the signature.) I’m a bit older than college-age, have a pretty decent resume, and can stick around after the summer, so maybe they really were eager to hire me and move me into a better position soon.

So what say ye, O Teeming Millions? Should I show up for work next week, or grab my wallet and my dignity and run?

Finally (an IMHO coda), if it IS legitimate, will this type of job look good or bad on a resume for a 27-year old finishing up a master’s degree. I want to work in the non-profit or public sector in the future, and I don’t want to do this if it’s a resume killer.

I say ‘legit.’

When I was in college I spent the summer of '92 working for the Maryland Public Interest Research Group (MaryPIRG). The ‘group’ interview I went on sounds almost exactly like what you describe. It wasn’t a marketing scam at all (we weren’t expected to recruit other employees or anything), but it paid very little – unless you were a good salesperson, which I was not.

We would all report to the office in the late morning/early afternoon, where there would be a little pep talk and we’d gather our clipboards, etc. for the day. Then we’d get split up into canvassing groups of 5-6 people, go get some lunch (the organization had a fleet of cars that the managers could drive), and get dropped off in various neighborhoods (almost always upper-middle class) where we’d spend 4-5 hours going door-to-door. We’d get picked up at the end of the day and brought back to the office. We were given scripts and encouraged to practice them on the way to the neighborhoods, and there were daily quotas regarding how many new members you were supposed to sign up. There was a base pay, but it was tied to the quota: I can’t remember if you got just a percentage of it if you didn’t meet quota, or if you got nothing at all. I just remember that I made quota my first few days, but hardly ever again after that (I do NOT believe in continuing to bother people after they’ve said ‘no’). I made hardly any money that summer. :slight_smile:

BUT, I enjoyed my experience with PIRG. I met some very, very cool people (who I still think of from time to time); I learned a lot about the environment; I was introduced to the music of Too Much Joy; and the door-to-door stuff taught me a lot about myself – though at the time I was only 20 years old, and you may not need to learn that much about yourself at this point. :wink: I got a wicked cool tan that summer, and learned to rely on the kindness of strangers for the occasional glass of water (this was before water bottles were ubiquitous). Seven years earlier my family had come back from living in the UK, so I’d turn on my British accent when I got bored. It was always fun to watch people’s faces when I started to talk: it didn’t help me make quota, but people would at least usually hear me out before closing their door in my face. {grin} Heck, I even had the cops called on me once! You just can’t have those kinds of experiences with a typical summer job. :slight_smile:

Whether you should take the job or not depends on your personality, but if you either don’t mind sales or don’t need to make much money I recommend giving it a try. And I don’t see how it would look bad on a resume, especially if you want to wind up in the nonprofit world – and especially if you do become a manager.

My disclaimer to all of this is that my experience with PIRG is now 12 years old ( :eek: ), so things might have changed. But I was actually laughing out loud when I read your description of the interview, because it was like being right back in that downtown Baltimore rowhouse!

Yep, Misnomer. That’s it. :slight_smile: Good to know that its at least been around in the same place for a while. I suspect that I’ll be lousy at it, but at least I’ll get some excercise and a bit of cash until I find something better.

I also worked for various PIRG’s, back in 1996. They’re a real group but I had a terrible experience. I think the group means well, and does good work, but what I ended up doing was not anything close to what I thought I was signing up for. My job title was “assistant canvass director,” which means I did pretty much the same thing you “interviewed” for, but for significantly less money (my salary was $16,500 per year, but I was working 14-16 hour days, 6 days a week, plus an hour commute each way). YMMV, though.

As for the groups they represent - all legit, IME. I worked for the Sierra Club and Clean Water Action, plus I also canvassed on bottle bill legislation in MA, a “dump diesel” campaign in NJ, and campaign finance reform in PA. Like I said, PIRG really means well, but I think you need to have a very strong constitution to do “management” for them. It does look impressive on resumes, though - one of my former co-canvassers is an aide to a Congressman now, advising on environmental issues.

I’m also another former PIRGer. All of what was said above it true. The organization is legit. As a student, I served on their board of directors. It was fun, although truly I could not live on the money I was bringing in. But, for a way to kill my first summer out of college, it was a worthwhile experience.

It can’t even begin to recount all my experiences that summer. Very laid back, it wasn’t uncommon for one or two us to have a couple of beers after we had raised $100 or so. I know of people who got laid while going door to door.

Yeah, some of the people you’ll meet are going to be jerks. You’ll learn different techniques for different areas. In some areas, you’ll have to do it with small contributions $5 or $10 at a time. For others, you may only get two contributions, but they’ll be big ones from people who support the organization 100%

The pay is somehow based on “base” plus a percentage of what you bring in. Making 'quota" isn’t usually too tough, although there will be nights where there are no people home. Fridays are usually the worst. I think they average out over the week, however.

The turnover rate is high, with a lot of quits on day one. However, you’ll meet some fun people. If you don’t need to bring in a lot of money, it is probably worth it.

They’re legit, but you won’t make much money and are perhaps not the ideal choice for a Master’s graduate.

The PIRGs are a great way for a college student to learn about political campaigns, have a lot of fun with the people there, develop personal skills and indeed do real good for the world. Not a good way to make money; count on making less than the lowest amount they’ll quote you, but if you can possibly afford it, it’s a great experience for a summer.

Based on the corporate culture of a decade ago, I don’t recommend them much as a long-term career choice (i.e. becoming a canvass director or anything).

Canvassing is not a career killer on your resume, but canvassing is a little below the level expected for a Masters graduate, basically half a step above volunteering somewhere – it shows interest on your part, and some minor experience, but since anyone with a pulse can get hired, it doesn’t prove you have any employable skills or talent. So you may decide tactically to leave it off of your resume just to be more impressive.
Likewise, if you want to work for non-profits, some kind of fundraising experience is always valuable, even if it’s not the kind that will get any particular respect from real fundraisers anywhere.

I’d say your attitude of ‘get a little exercise while I search for a real job’ is about right, as long as you don’t need to be making much money. The great thing about it is that it can be incredibly flexible with days off, so you can do interviews and other job search stuff.

ok, following on the lines of Quercus, this is strictly IHMO, but if you’re looking for something to build your resume, rather than get some money for summer or whatever, I’d stay away from PIRG. PIRG is a real organization, with a strong foundation in grassroots movements.

But you should be aware that, among some circles (such as government and the more technocratic-leaning environmental organizations), PIRG is an organization full of highly motivated students with no in-depth knowledge of what they’re working on. My pals in Washington, DC, who have worked extensively with environmental and other advocacy organizations, virtually to the man have a very, very low opinion of PIRG groups. From what I can tell, the opinion that PIRG representatives don’t know what the heck they are talking about is quite widely held.

So, if you’re looking for something that would help you advance in these types of circles, as opposed to seeking the experience of being active in your community, I’d suggest that you work to find positions with the higher profile advocacy organizations, like Sierra Club, LCV, Amnesty, and the like.

PIRG got screwed in one or two neighborhoods because Clean Water Action had just been there… :slight_smile:

You know, I’ve often wondered what kind of ‘legitimacy’ PIRG has. It’s established and well-known, but the public relations stuff I saw seemed kind of…well…amateurish. But I do still think of their “Wastemaker” awards whenever I come across something that is overly packaged. {grin}