Should I take this job from the Fund for the Public Interest?
February 11, 2010 9:04 AM   Subscribe

I was just offered a job with the Fund for the Public Interest, but my online research makes the Fund seem a little sketchy. Has anyone had experience working with the Fund? Is it worth it?

I first looked into the job because the organization's causes (environmentalism and human rights issues) are very hot button issues to me. I first came across the recruiter at a job fair at my university. He explained to me that the Fund works as a fundraising arm for other non-profits like Sierra Club and the Human Rights Campaign. I had two interviews, and then was offered the job.

At first, I was really excited, but then started finding online testimonials saying that the Fund just uses idealistic recent college grads to raise money and then just flings them aside. Sometimes canvassers are fired after a couple of days or a week without being paid any wages. And directors (the job offered to me) are paid far less than claimed, are trained to lie to the canvassers they hire, and are themselves are often terminated without warning or reason. Also, some web-sites claim that the Fund doesn't even use most of its canvassed money for the causes it claims to. There's even a class action lawsuit brought by former employees who were not allowed to unionize.

I'm not sure how accurate these testimonials are. Plus a lot of the information I've found is four or more years old, and I came across claims elsewhere that the Fund has changed its policies. Does anyone have any more recent experience with the Fund, and what was it like? Is it really as scammy as is claimed? Jobs in this economy are hard to come by (in my city, unemployment in my age group is 10%), and I don't want to be too hasty in dismissing this offer.
posted by DeusExMegana to Work & Money (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Never hurts to check out a nonprofit's Form 990 (i.e. their informational return filed with the IRS since they're tax-exempt).

Here's theirs from 2008 (listed under "Fund for Public Interest Research" since the website says that was their former name: "Fund for the Public Interest, Inc., formerly known as the Fund for Public Interest Research, Inc.") [PDF]

Looks like they spend about 16% of their revenue on fundraising. Not great, but not horrible. And they make money by providing technical advisory services to other nonprofits, while also giving grants to those organizations -- many in California.
posted by midatlanticwanderer at 9:16 AM on February 11, 2010

In NYC I think these are the people who stand in pairs in the street with notebooks harassing passers by to join their cause. I think it would be good for you in the sense that you will get really used to rejection and that will be useful and any future sales career you intend to pursue, but I get a bad feeling from them. Plus I know you will get told to fuck off ten times a day, at least that's what one of the kids working for them told me.
posted by shothotbot at 9:17 AM on February 11, 2010

My wife worked for them in Minneapolis after college. It sucked. The pay is low, the hours are endless, and your job is mainly to motivate college kids to knock on doors and ask for money -- which you also have to do yourself, with quotas. They will hire any warm body willing to sign up, and no one lasts longer than a few months. If you'd like to know what it's like to walk miles every day and bother strangers for very little pay, this is job for you. But I wouldn't look at it as a long-term thing.
posted by rusty at 9:21 AM on February 11, 2010

go to guidestar for more info (you'll have to register)... they distribute (through grants and services) about 66% of the revenue they bring, that means 44% goes to other expenses.. that's a bit high for a non-profit.

The web does serve up some nasty stuff such as closing an office when they tried to unionize, having to settle for millions a law suit for underpaying staff.

Guidestar lists minimum info about them, really only the info and data that can be pulled from the 990, they don't list who is on the Board, a lot of other information is not available...the lack of transparency would bother me.

It it were me, and there were other options, I would pass on this.
posted by HuronBob at 9:25 AM on February 11, 2010

Do it and if you they ask you to lie or do anything you find objectionable, just quit. Worst thing that happens, you have a few job horror stories to share with your friends.
posted by Nyarlathotep at 9:25 AM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

HuronBob, that info (the Board members) is listed on the PDF 990 I linked to, FYI. If you register at Guidestar you should be able to access the full PDFs of 990s as well.
posted by midatlanticwanderer at 9:28 AM on February 11, 2010

midatlanticwanderer.... I saw that, all but 2 of them are actually paid employees, I'm wondering if it even has a legit volunteer Board.
posted by HuronBob at 9:37 AM on February 11, 2010

I worked for the Fund last summer after months of being an unemployed idealistic college graduate. I did door to door canvassing, which meant knocking on doors and asking for donations. The job sucked. The hours are long, about eight or nine per day, but I was only paid for the four hours or so I spent "on turf" which is whatever area you are canvassing in. The biggest problem is that your job security is based on earning a certain quota of donations each day, and a person is fired after three days of not making quota. No exceptions. I heard that this meant experienced field managers had been fired after a couple bad days of not making quota. It was an extremely stressful working environment because of this. Most of the people I worked with spent most of their time worrying about making their quota for the day. Turnover is extremely high, I only lasted a week.

I was very disappointed with my experience there. I had been excited to work there because environmental policy is something I want to pursue career-wise and I feel passionately about the issues we were canvassing on but I agree that the Fund just takes advantage of idealistic young people (I was one of them) for cheap labor. I would say maybe just take the job for now while looking for something better so you can at least get some money, but I don't know if even that would be worth it.
posted by Shesthefastest at 10:12 AM on February 11, 2010

HuronBob, good catch. I meant to mention that. Paid boards are not a good sign, as you say.
posted by midatlanticwanderer at 10:16 AM on February 11, 2010

Agree on the "taking advantage of idealistic young people for cheap labor" point. When I worked for them, we weren't fired for not making quota (don't know if this was at the director's discretion, or because they couldn't find enough people otherwise, or what) but if you didn't make quota the pay was ridiculously low instead of just very low. After several weeks of not making quota (and making personal donations myself several times to top it off because it was clearly the smart financial move, given how much more you make when you make quota) it became clear that it was way too much work for way too little money, and even though I kind of liked going door to door talking to people about issues I cared about, I quit to find something that paid decently. I had a friend at an office in a totally different state who was fired for not making quota, though. (Both my experience and this person's were back in the early 2000s, though, so I suppose it's possible things have improved.)

If I were you, I would at least inquire into how much discretion you would have as a director to set policies. Maybe if there's some way for you to have enough control to ensure that people aren't getting totally exploited and underpaid-- and if you're committed to being honest and open with the people you hire/direct-- it might be worth a try. You can always go into it with the mindset that you're not going to do anything that violates your integrity, and if that turns out to be unavoidable, then if you quit you'll just be back where you started...
posted by EmilyClimbs at 2:29 PM on February 11, 2010

I worked for the fund for a day last summer. I was asked to stand in downtown Chicago, stop people walking on the street, deliver the pre-memorized spiel, then ask for monetary donations, preferably in the form of a credit card number. While they say they work for environmental reasons, the office I worked out was extremely vague about what the money was actually going towards. Most of the decorations in the office were related to how much money individual people have brought in and how much the goal was for the month.

Your concerns on working a few days then getting fired is legitimate, but they do pay you. You basically have to reach a quota on how much money you manage to raise each day in order to stay hired. From my experience, this group tells you it's a grassroots campaign but at the end of the day, they don't care how many people you got to sign postcards to elected officials or new members, they just care about the money. That was what caused me to quit after a day. Yes, standing on the street corner was hard, but I just wasn't comfortable with the fact that I didn't know where the money was going. This organization also has an incredible turnover rate. They'll hire just about everyone who is foolish to apply, but unless you meet their quotas, you get fired. Most people don't last a week.

I'd say save your sanity and time and look for another job. This one just isn't worth it at all.
posted by astapasta24 at 8:22 PM on February 11, 2010

It will kill your idealism. I am a passionate environmentalist, and I admit I never chat with canvassers or give money. Basically, they are the last line of defense that I have to jook as I make my way out of Whole Foods. I think there are much better ways to have an impact or donate money. I would recommend volunteering for other organizations that would actually give you good experience while working at some other stable (paying) job.

You would actually be selling your soul less and have more energy to reinvest in your passion.
posted by Gaeacon at 3:40 PM on February 12, 2010

I ended up turning the position down, since I was asked to make a decision within a few weeks, and I didn't feel right accepting a position with a company that, from all accounts, is, if not exactly fraudulent, is not-quite-what-it-seems. Thanks for your advice; it helped a lot.
posted by DeusExMegana at 8:47 PM on March 15, 2010

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