Burned Out By the PIRG


Reader comment RE: interview

I recently interviewed for a job with the PIRG and I found it very beneficial that interviewees were asked to canvass for forty-five minutes during the process. Not only does it allow the interviewers to focus on objective qualifications (how many signatures did each interviewee obtain) that are extremely important to them and the future of their campaigns/livelihood, but it also allows the interviewees (like me) to understand that a) They are serious about canvassing, b) canvassing is not for everyone, c) if you do not like canvassing you should not take another step in their organization.

I believe a majority of our generation is idealist and would enjoy being a part of a non-profit and “doing good” in their community. Canvassing during interviews in a perfect test for the interviewee to decide important questions (“could I do this every day over summer?” and “do I believe canvassing is the most effective action to achieve social change?”–if your answer is yes you have found the perfect place to work).

My answers were no and no.



Email submission RE: constructive criticism

I was a new school campus organizer from October during the Obama
election until the following April.  I learned a lot about organizing,
which was my goal when taking the job.  I got burned out and became
very resentful towards the team of organizing directors managing me.
I still believe in the student PIRGs’s mission, although I do not
think that their mission is very clearly articulated.  Before I quit, I had been placed as the CD of the Albuquerque canvass office.

I moved to Albuquerque after quitting because that is where I am from.
I took a job canvassing with the Fund in Albuquerque because I enjoy
canvassing, it was much less hours, and I made a lot of money
canvassing.

Later on that summer I was fired despite being the top fund raiser for
the Summer.  I was fired because I hosted a canvasser led meeting/
social with the topic of canvassers talking about how they could pitch
in and more effectively communicate to make everybody in the office
more successful and less stressed out.  The CD and RD above me assumed
I was trying to organize a union.

Despite having attorneys as parents (parents who were also not happy
about me getting fired), I decided against suing the Fund for
infringing upon my constitutional and labor rights.  I’ve got better
things to do than whine about The Fund.  The two ADs of that office
have both apologized to me for being part of a management staff that
so foolishly decided to fire me.

On the subject of burn out, I say if you are burned out and do not
like it, quit.   If you see value in the skills that you learn as a
PIRG organizer, then stick around because those skills are very
valuable.

Overall, as an organization, I think the public interest network needs
to do something about its leadership.  Right now it seems to be
infected with a very large dose of insecurity and ego.  Perhaps, for
some Denver training, they can commit to changing the self destructive
culture of being a Public Interest Network organizer.
This is a very strong and deeply embedded organization.  I believe
they can greatly increase their effectiveness and political influence
by taking a hard look in the mirror and making some changes.

To all you current organizers, I hope you do not feel as burned out
and stressed out as my class of organizers seemed to.  If you do, I
highly recommend communicating these feelings to your colleagues and
management staff.  Good luck!



A thoughtful comment

The thing is that it actually is very efficient. Customization takes time, and the model works, so why customize? This blog criticizes the model so much, but why do you think they have been around for 30-something years? The model works, raps work, following the model will get you some degree of success.

That’s part of what is frightening, though–the fact that the model is so calculated and completely successful. The low-retention rate is expected and individuality is discouraged. The problem is that the PIRGs take advantage of natural human traits (e.g. guilt, compassion, loyalty) and twist them to help the organization grow without any consideration for the actual humans they are affecting.



n. another great quote

From the FFPIR.info website:

There is no sin in making a living changing the world. There is no sin in being able to eat, and pay your rent, and go to sleep at night without worrying if the power is going to be shut off tomorrow. Activists who eat, who get sleep, who have a place to live, and know that they can put gas in their car (for however long we have it) tend to do much better work than activists who are starving, hungry and poor. It’s the Rockefellers who have sold activists on the notion that you have to be poor, and that’s for the precise purpose of making you ineffective.”

-Mike Ruppert



m. Keep the comments coming!

It’s encouraging to see current and former staff posting comment reflections of their experiences.  The more, the merrier!

If you wish to even write a post – please leave a comment.



l. Is there anything else out there?

I often spoke with other PIRG entry level staff what drew them into the job.  Many were former interns in the program, and automatically had an easy in to the organization.   Many had been recruited through information sessions and group interviews with PIRG staff at their college career centers.

But most had accepted a job with PIRG for the simple reason that they wanted to work on advocacy and social change in a nonprofit, but there were no other opportunities available.

Sure, there’s a bit of truth to that explanation.  Finding a job in the nonprofit world can be difficult for the college senior or recent graduate, much more so than going straight into the corporate world or graduate school.

PIRG devotes a staggering amount of money and time on their recruitment process.  If they changed their work culture and environment, they might be able to cut down on these costs,  keep staff around, and raise their salaries.  But a large majority of smaller nonprofit organizations, which are constantly trying to balance their bottom line, simply do not have the same resources to seek out candidates for employment.  Craigslist now charges $25 per job listing in most major American cities – Idealist also charges for job listings.

So where can you really find openings? There are plenty of opportunities out there beyond PIRG – if you have the drive and patience to seek them out.  Many openings at nonprofit organizations are passed around word of mouth, or posted directly on their websites.  Start looking into the local organizations that serve the community you hope to live in after college.  Get yourself out in the community.  Connect with alumni who might work with organizations you are interested in.

Don’t always rely on your career center. Sure, your on-campus career center can teach you a thing or two about the perfect cover letter, a successful interview, and connect you with hundreds of places to work, but don’t depend on them completely.  In the end, how badly you want a job, particularly in the nonprofit world, is up to you.  Sure, the PIRG makes it easy for you by flying out their staff to campuses all around the country and setting up interviews right in your career center, but if you want something else, it’s all on you.

Experience, experience, experience. Sure, a college courseload can be tough stuff.  But if you want to get an edge ahead of other college grads, get involved. Take on leadership positions in on-campus organizations.   INTERN AND VOLUNTEER.  Internships or volunteer positions at nonprofit organizations are particularly key because they get you into the sector.  Even 10 hours per week looks better than none at all.  Most importantly, you have references.

NETWORK. One thing your career center can be really good at, which I touched on before, is putting you within reach of a vast alumni network.  Use it.  Attend community events if you plan on sticking around your college’s city or nearby city.  If you’re interning or volunteering with an organization, attend their events and meet other people in the sector.   Throw yourself out there.



11. The facade

I remember coming out of a training as if it were the end of an army training.  Some hoopla about “we’re gonna be fighting for social justice and social change!”  I felt a little sick inside, because every creepy PIRG method that had been presented to me about how to recruit and organize people seemed to lose all of that in the equation.

Never addressed was how to get to know and deal with these new communities we’d be organizing in.  Sure, they were college campuses, maybe a little set apart from the real world – but the students there still dealt with many very real issues.  Many of these campuses were in urban neighborhoods.  Many of the students, full or part-time, juggled full to part-time jobs on the side, a rigrous courseload, and in some cases, children.

The whole structure of the organization kind of rendered everything we were fighting for to a facade.   I never really felt like I really cared about the textbook-global warming-hunger & homelessness campaigns we were expected to organize on, because we were too damn busy trying to figure out “How many people are going to attend the GIM meeting?!”  “I gotta do my numbers.”  “My tabling rate isn’t too good.”  It was like a constant struggle to re-evaluate yourself rather than fighting for the students you were working with.  Sure, the aforementioned issues drew attention and resonated, but they never really made us think outside the box.

-Amie