Burned Out By the PIRG

Looking into a job with PIRG

Of course, like many others, I was drawn into the career opportunities at PIRG because of the sheer experience and skills they would empower me with.  From the job descriptions, I was excited by the opportunities I had yet to see in another entry level position.  I had experience as an intern organizing with exciting non-profits in college, and joining the PIRG just seemed like the right kind of transition.

Entry-level opportunities at PIRG seem to consist of: the campus organizer, the fellow, or the canvass directors.  The Green Corps, which is also part of the PIRG, is another entry-level opportunity for those looking to go into environmental organizing – it acts as a sort of “field school”.

Descriptions of all positions:

Canvass Directors and Assistant Canvass Directors with the Fund, also known as the “Citizen Outreach Director”

As a Citizen Outreach Director for the Fund, you run a campaign office in one of dozens of cities throughout the country. The staff you supervise educates citizens about the issues and gets them involved in campaigns to win progressive change. In essence, you build a team of committed activists who, in turn, mobilize hundreds or thousands of citizens to take action.

The Sierra Club is battling international timber and oil companies to preserve some of our last remaining wild lands. The Human Rights Campaign is fighting bigotry to protect the civil rights of all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation. Environment America is winning clean, renewable energy laws across the country.

At Fund for the Public Interest, we work with these and other leading progressive groups to help fight for the future of our health, our environment and our democracy. We are looking for candidates to join us as Canvass Directors and Telephone Outreach Directors.


Staff Management

  • Recruit and manage a campaign staff of 10-40 canvassers or callers.
  • Teach effective canvassing and campaigning techniques to staff.
  • Identify strong staff and teach them to run local campaigns and develop leadership skills.
  • Run staff meetings and leadership trainings.
  • Arrange briefings and issue workshops to educate and motivate staff.
  • Evaluate staff performance and give ongoing feedback.

Canvassing and Field Work

  • Reach or exceed your office’s fundraising and membership goals. Most offices have goals of $250,000 raised and 5,000 members identified each year.
  • Canvass door-to-door, by telephone or in public places (depending on the position) three times each week to train staff, raise money, identify and activate members, and educate the public on the issues.
  • Oversee all administrative functions related to fundraising, membership development, campaign work and general office management.

Campaign Strategies

  • Run letter-writing or petition drives to state legislators, local government, corporate boards and congressional representatives.
  • Build coalitions of local and state organizations and elected officials.
  • Identify local activists within state legislative and congressional districts. Organize them into networks for quick political action.
  • Attract media coverage for campaigns. Send out news releases, hold news conferences and meet with editorial boards to release research, expose problems and promote solutions.

Staff will participate in an intensive, paid training program for the first four weeks of the job. Trainings are held on an ongoing basis—and for students graduating this year, the training will start in July. This initial training focuses on staff management and canvassing and also includes sections on campaign strategy, media and public speaking. All staff participate in additional regional trainings and staff meetings throughout the year.

Campus Organizers

Campus Organizers lead a variety of public interest campaigns on their campuses, giving students an opportunity to solve pressing social problems. Among the many recent examples are: The Oberlin College chapter’s Transit Project which documented the need for and benefits of expanding public transit, negotiated a program with the local authorities, and persuaded the student body to fund the project; student interns and Campus Organizers from the WISPIRG chapters gained media attention about local water quality issues, generated grassroots support, and testified before state regulators-a campaign which resulted in the state adopting tough water pollution “runoff” standards; Campus Organizers and students from the MASSPIRG chapters convinced the state Senate to vote in favor of preserving public land; and at the University of Connecticut, student interns organized community service projects that raised over $10,000 to fight hunger and homelessness.

Campus Organizers develop educational programs to teach citizenship skills and inform the campus community about important public interest issues. Campus Organizers also oversee an internship program, through which students can earn academic course credit for public interest research and advocacy.

Campus Organizers build active, cohesive and highly visible campus chapters that are recognized by faculty and student leaders as an asset to the campus community. In the summer months and over the winter break, Campus Organizers learn to canvass and run effective citizen outreach campaigns.

It’s worth noting that many of these chapters are started by PIRG organizers, who come into the school and often work with the student government to build support for a full time chapter funded by a fee on the student’s bill.  The way in which these fees work and where the money goes is often sketchy and hard to explain – more on that later, as well.

US/State PIRG Fellowship

The goal of a PIRG Fellowship is to help develop leaders for the public interest movement. You might see yourself becoming a field organizer, advocate-or even director of a public interest group someday. As a PIRG Fellow, you gain hands-on experience in organizing, advocating and leading public interest campaigns in your first year on staff. More importantly, you get real results, whether at the local, state or federal level. And your experience is complemented by intensive training and the direction and advice of a senior mentor.

As a PIRG Fellow, you’ll build expertise on global warming, campaign reform or another social problem. You conduct research, make the case for solutions, act as a spokesperson to the media, build diverse coalitions, write grants, and develop the kind of politically powerful support you need to win. Your day-to-day work might include meeting with a state or national decision-maker, researching or writing a report, conducting a news conference, or directing a citizen outreach campaign. Upon successful completion of the two-year program, you’ll be eligible for a leadership role within the organization.

Environment America, which I mentioned in the last post, being the environmental policy wing of PIRG separate from the State PIRG organizations (which work more on consumer, media, and transportation issues) also has its own fellowship program.

Green Corps

Green Corps’ Field School for Environmental Organizing trains college graduates to run environmental campaigns, starting by building a core group of activists and finishing by convincing decision-makers to pass laws, change policies and create reforms to protect our environment.  But Green Corps is more than a school – it’s a real-world endeavor.  Trainees start working on campaigns from the start of their education.  They make a difference, starting on Day 1.

Green Corps’ one-year, full-time, paid Field School for Environmental Organizing includes intensive classroom training, hands-on field experiencecareer placement in positions with leading environmental groups.