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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Update on Canvasser Firings: Sierra Club No Longer Contracts With the Fund for Public Interest

Posted by Sarah Mirk on Thu, Nov 29, 2012 at 12:44 PM

This month, the Portland branch of progressive fundraising organization Fund for the Public Interest officially fired the last remaining member of an initial union bargaining team that has been trying to obtain better working conditions for its canvassers.

The Fund for the Public Interest is a giant canvassing organization—in 2010 (the most current year for which tax returns are available), they employed 10,500 people nationwide to knock on doors and make calls, raising $26.5 million. In the article published last week, I noted that one of the groups contracting with the Fund is the Sierra Club. But Oregon Sierra Club Director Brian Pasko called this week to tell me that in 2011, the environmental group actually ended its contract with the Fund and its canvassing efforts.

Pasko says Sierra Club ended its relationship with the Fund (also called Public Interest Research Group, or the PIRGs) in part because of concerns about their operations.

"I had a number of concerns with the PIRGs, mainly with the way they were running their canvass and how they were communicating with us," says Pasko. He had received complaints from members about canvassers, including "pseudo-trespass type issues" and people knocking doors after dark. Canvassing was always more of an outreach effort for the Sierra Club than a tool for gaining memberships, so both the Oregon chapter and the national Sierra Club decided last year to switch to other outreach mechanisms.

In addition to the complaints and concerns about the PIRG, the Sierra Club found more creative ways to raise money than knocking doors. Now, the Oregon chapter is partnering with home weatherization and solar installation companies—their members get discounts on making their home more energy efficient and, in exchange, the companies give a donation to the Sierra Club. This raises about $10,000 a year for the nonprofit, says Pasko, in a way that supports local businesses and helps Oregonians be more environmentally friendly.

As the Fund continues to take heat for its labor practices, I wonder if other nonprofits will take a cue from the Sierra Club.

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