Project Wonderful

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Ask An Election Nerd: Should I Work At A PIRG?

Hi! I love your blog and as a recent college graduate in the poli sci field I am in desperate need of advice. I've been job hunting for about two months now and have come up pretty empty despite about two years of work experience between campaign and nonprofit internships. I saw a post you made about US PIRG and Work For Progress pretty much confirming all the negative stuff I've heard about them but I'm getting desperate. Are they really that bad of an option?


It must be PIRG recruiting season because I got a rash of questions about PIRGs around this time last year and now I am seeing them again. Rather than just give my own opinion, since I have never worked for a PIRG, I thought I would curate all the responses I got when I posted this question to the blog last year, and post them for you to decide. I've put my original response below and then the many submitter responses that followed.

My tangential dealings with PIRG have been mostly negative. First off, they have been frequently accused of advertising wages that they don’t deliver unless workers are able to meet an exceedingly high quota. Second, studies have shown that only about 8-10% of money raised by commercial fundraisers goes to the causes they claim to support. The rest goes to overhead. Thirdly, I would never give cash or my credit card information to someone I met on the street, or who came to my door, so it’s hard for me to promote the solicitation of others doing so. (Also anecdotally the only person I have ever met who enjoyed worked for them was an insufferable douchebag. That said, I have never worked directly with PIRG, so I leave it open to my blog followers to dispute.

"To the person who got offered a job at Fund for the Public Interest, please don't take it. I got offered one last summer which made me super excited. It was my first time living on my own and paying rent and I had found a job that wanted me, or so I thought. It ended up being a terrible idea. If you do some quick research, the results will demonstrate that the organization has a history of violating labor laws. I hope this helps!"

"Don't EVER work for the PIRG's. Any campaign where you are forced to put your life in danger (and going door to door ALONE in unsafe areas with large amounts of money is UNSAFE) is not worth it. Most of the PIRG's pay very low wages, with the promise that you can make more with commission which is usually only 20% for directors. Unfair. Unsafe. Unhelpful to the cause."

"I've worked for Grassroots Campaigns and the Fund. Tell that person who got offered the job at the Fund to avoid it like it has plague. Then tell her GCI is in a recruiting mode and if she got offered a job at the fund GCI will probably love to have her."

"The PIRGs are RIDICULOUSLY unfair. They are so massively underpaid. I got offered a job my first year out of college -- the annual salary was $21k.... in ATLANTA. No. Just.... no. To be avoided."

"Hi Nancy, I love your blog, but I'm really turned off by the negative comments you've published about The Public Interest Network. I've been working with TPIN for a year, and my experience has been entirely positive. Yes the hours are long and the pay isn't great, but I love what I do, so every paycheck feels like a bonus. The training is unparalleled, the campaigns are strategic, and the people are super smart. I wouldn't let some angry former employees dissuade anyone from working with them."

"Based solely on my experience with CalPIRG, I definitely do not recommend they take the job. I'm not gonna say they're a conspiracy, but their business practices are super sketch."

"The 90% overhead myth is just that - a myth. True, a fair amount of the initial donations go to overhead, which makes it impractical for some campaigns but the long-term benefits of the registry is worth it to their clients. ACLU, for example (the main campaign I worked on) got about 35% of our donations. But those donations often turned into long-term donors - an ACLU rep told us that it's more important they have a database because their returning donors almost triple the day-to-day donations."

"Two more things to add: It's easy for people to complain, especially when people expect things to happen for them or to them — you know as well as I do that that isn't organizing. It's a lot harder to actually put in the effort, swallow your pride and do whatever you can to make an impact, while knowing your own personal wall and making sure you take care of yourself. Plus, everyone at TPIN identifies with your blog and we are all big fans. Like you said, we're all on the same team."

"One more response to the person who inquired about working with the national PIRG: see This site is built by former PIRG employees and is a pretty good summary of most people’s comments so far. I’ve never worked for the national PIRG but have worked with a number of former PIRG employees on other campaigns who almost universally hated their time there. PIRG has tried to recruit me to work with them three times, and when I’ve pushed them for details they’ve described 80 hour work weeks at an effective pay rate of less than $7/hour (no overtime pay, since most positions are salaried) and rarely any days off, perhaps some Sundays but at least six days per week of expected work. This doesn’t sound good to me, so I’ve turned down their offers and taken jobs on other campaigns instead.

I should note that this criticism only applies to organizations which are under the umbrella of the national Public Interest Network out of Boston (this includes USPIRG and many state PIRGs, the Fund for the Public Interest, Environment America, Green Corps, and Fair Share Alliance). It notably does NOT include MPIRG (Minnesota), which has no affiliation with the national network and maintains much better labor practices and employee retention. NYPIRG and a few other state PIRGs also operate independently and have better practices."

Hope this helps!

Campaign Love and Mine,


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