"We can come up with theoretical ways of how the system can be changed, but I don't know in practice if it will ever happen. I suspect that it won't," she said.


Changing the system would require aligning for-profit interests with nonprofit values. The union between GCI and the charities is rife with double standards. The "good causes and candidates" — the people in the business of saving the children — seem to look the other way as GCI and its canvassers continue to give donors fuzzy financial information. At the same time, some employees complain that working conditions are less than ideal.

When GCI was founded in December 2003, its founder and president Douglas Phelps was already at the helm of a host of nonprofits and commercial endeavors. Currently, he serves as the chairman of the board for U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups — the first of which was founded by Ralph Nader in the 1970s. Since 1982, Phelps has been the chairman of U. S. PIRG's nonprofit fundraising arm, the Fund for the Public Interest, commonly known as the Fund. He also serves as president of the for-profit telemarketing and fundraising company Telefund, Inc., and trustee of mutual funds investment group Green Century Funds — as well as director of its administrative body, Green Century Capital Management. Green Century Funds is owned by several of the nonprofits and PIRGs.

The list of charities and tie-in organizations that Phelps and other GCI and Telefund executives run is exhaustive. Ten groups are listed as part of an informal umbrella group called the Public Interest Network. A bevy of other organizations also shares some of the leadership and provide aid to the groups within the network.

Owing to the organizations' interconnectedness, GCI has much in common with the Fund, even canvassing for many of the same nonprofits. Sociology professor and former canvasser Dana R. Fisher criticized the Fund in her 2006 book Activism, Inc.: How the Outsourcing of Grassroots Campaigns is Strangling Progressive Politics in America, in which the Fund was called "People's Project." Fisher blamed the progressive left's outsourcing of fundraising for treating young people like an expendable resource, and tainting their experience in public service.

In 2009, San Francisco law firm Rudy, Exelrod, Zieff & Lowe won a $2 million settlement on behalf of Fund employees who claimed they were not paid overtime. In December 2004, a year after GCI's formation and shortly after it began campaigning for the Democratic National Committee, a group of canvassers from Oregon claimed they had not been paid the state's minimum wage. They later received an undisclosed settlement. In 2008, San Bruno lawyer Rob Nelson won a class action suit in San Francisco on behalf of former GCI employees who claimed they too were not paid minimum wage or overtime. Though GCI argued that the plaintiffs were a special class of exempt employees, as it did in the Oregon case, the California employees received a $600,000 settlement. Another settlement from a 2009 case against GCI awaits finalization in San Francisco Superior Court.

Perhaps an episode in Chicago best highlights canvassers' uphill battle for answers and support from the charities and GCI. In 2008, Tim Pool came from the Fund to GCI to make more money by fundraising for the ACLU. Pool quickly became a star fundraiser. His star began to dim when he questioned whether he and his coworkers were being compensated correctly. His plight evoked the sympathy of a director at the office, who spoke to us but requested not to be named. We'll call her Justine.

Justine said that when she took Pool's frustrations to GCI headquarters, the national team was more concerned with why he was questioning the status quo. Unable to resolve the problem in-house, Justine accompanied Pool and two other employees to the ACLU of Illinois, hoping for guidance. According to Justine, what they got instead was free ACLU paraphernalia and a call informing them that the organization would have to recuse itself because of a conflict of interest.

After starting an effort to unionize, with the help of the National Labor Relations Board, Pool and two coworkers were fired.

Justine asserted the person who fired the three employees didn't know it was illegal. "The people I experienced who were directors at Grassroots Campaigns knew nothing about being a staff manager, nothing about HR or any of those things," she said. "It's a company that is wide open to these kind of lawsuits." The NLRB ultimately took Pool's case and won him back pay. Justine quit as soon as Barack Obama was elected president.

Engel, the ACLU's deputy director, said that if GCI was not in compliance with the law before, she has been assured it is a non-issue now. "They're always able to put our minds at rest that there's not a problem.... People get upset. It doesn't mean they were mistreated; it means they didn't have a good experience."

But the charities and the California Attorney General's office also say there simply isn't enough manpower to keep tabs on all fundraisers. Case in point: In what Jones called an "administrative oversight," GCI did not file the majority of its annual reports for 2006-2009 in California. Nor was the company notified of this by the Attorney General's office, until SF Weekly requested the documents.

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50 comments
currentcanvasser
currentcanvasser

John Patterson you're thinking about it wrong. These organizations have a fundraising budget and that's why there's a middleman out there doing the messy necessary work of getting more people involved. I do Oxfam right now and I think it's important as hell. 100% of the money goes to the organization and then we get paid from the fundraising budget, that's how it works, don't doubt it, and don't let haters get you down. I hope you're still working as a canvasser John, and if you aren't go get yourself signed up again. Fuck all these people complaining about canvassers and them getting paid to do this work, sounds like a first world problem and commercialism denial. You've got these Americans out here who're throwing down a hundred dollars on a pair of sweatshop Nike tennis shoes complaining someone's asking them to feed the hungry in a thirdworld country. But do remember it's said Americans give the most to charity than any other country on average, so they've got more to give, recession or not.

John Patterson
John Patterson

Reading the comments, I wonder how many of the people posting are canvassers. I'm a canvasser right now with GCI. Of course I knew that not all of the money we raised goes to the organizations were working for. And I'd even heard that some of the nonprofits made zero some years. But looking at this article I'd say it's disheartening. If I could be paid to tell people to go online and donate to the organization cutting out the middle man, then I'd certainly feel ethical about that. But that's who I work for, the middleman. Now I have the same question that some other posts have asked: why do these nonprofits continue to hire GCI if they're getting zero returns? It's not like GCI is some giant multinational like GE that's demanding compliance from other organizations or buying people off. I think what GCI is really doing for the short term is advertising, and for the longterm having these donors continue to donate yearly past the time GCI is billing these organizations. Now i wonder, how long does GCI bill these organizations, they can still bill them past the contract, can they? I got this GCI job because it was easy to get and I'd had friends who'd done it. I would say though that it's the hardest job I've had and it can be really stressful. Raising a quota is unlike any other basically minimum wage job (yes there are bonuses but they're not really that big) where you just show up and cashier or wait tables or whatever. And yes, we do build up our ability to take rejection well. And the structure and training of GCI does get you to believe that you're fighting the great fight, most of all the money is going to the organizations, and etc. etc. There is a dilemma in not telling people there money will not go directly to the organization right away, especially if people are only giving one time donations and not a monthly commitment. It makes me feel like I'm lying to them, manipulating them, having them in a sense waste their money on paying GCI and me. I might just start telling them just this, and telling them go online and sign up, something we get a lot, and of course we wonder would they even do that? But of course if they do, they can know it's going right to the organization. But then how the hell do i make my quota and keep my job. Well, most likely i need another job anyway. Why suck all my "young idealism" away on this job. In terms of moving up in this organization, the pay does not get better. When you become an assistant director or lead director after you've become a field manager and not just a core canvasser, you get paid on salary that amounts to less than minimum wage in most states for working a lot of overtime you don't get paid for. These nonprofits should just hire us to fundraise directly for them and not have a middleman corporation in the way. I have a response for a donor on the street:"If you just give me fifty dollars it's going all to expenses, it won't get to be used by [insert organization]. If you give me ten dollars a month, after a year you may start to be giving your money to [insert same organization] and if you do this here on the street rather than giving online you are supporting our advertising for this organization and you are supporting us get people to get email updates and mailings that are asking for more money from the organization and yes i know you may ask why is the organization asking me for more money now, well that's because it didn't get much of your money right away."Okay i totally understand why that discourages you from wanting to give me money on the street, however you can tell this is a rough job that i should quit, but if you don't have another job for me because the job market is shit and you want to help me personally can you please sign up at 50 dollars a month then quit the next month and then sign up online after that to really help the organization, that counts as 350 dollars to my quota. "Okay that sounds dishonest to you...well it was dishonest altogether in the first place and I was tired of lying to people, I feel all this lying might have some negative backlash on me. However, we are fighting people's apathy out here, and this donation would've made you feel better if I'd smudged the facts a bit. So please go back to sleep, I will too. And thank you for your donation."

Adele T Meyer
Adele T Meyer

All that this article has done is hurt Planned Parenthood, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the ACLU and the countless other organizations that hire GCI to build membership, increase visibility, and educate voters. Do you really think an international nonprofit responsible for the welfare of millions would just waste millions of dollars in fraudulent fundraising techniques? As for your comments on how canvassers "solicit" people and "block the sidewalk": canvassers are young progressives who are trying to empower citizens to take control of their democracy. In this day and age, is there any other way to get people civically engaged than to "solicit" them with information about issues the mainstream media brushes over? Would even half of the people who get involved in their reproductive futures through a canvasser bother to visit Planned Parenthood's website? Politically active people are already members of these organizations. It is a canvassers job to seek those who are not active yet. So, if you have a problem with being "solicited," or as dear "Maria" stated in her response to this article in the SF Weekly this week, canvassers who are "waving at people like they know them," just say "No, thank you" and allow the rest of us Americans to support the organizations that truly help the most vulnerable citizens of this godforsaken country.

Dave Aspen
Dave Aspen

Anyone who's ever opened their door and actually engaged with a canvasser should have figured out that the key to having an activist standing there is not as a conduit for large sums of money heading to a cause or organization, but as an investment in longer term successes for not-for-profit organizations built through relationships, new members, and simply being a voice on the street reminding people that they can make a difference.

I ran a CalPIRG canvass 20 years ago and no one, including CalPIRG was getting rich, but we were raising awareness, training leaders, and engaging a public to win environmental and consumer campaigns. We didn't win them all, but we kept the polluters feet to the fire and we kept the message out there that real people's interests were being represented.

The next time you see a warm and fuzzy BP or Chevron commercial that's being viewed by millions, think about what we're up against. A young, idealist kid on your doorstep or on a street corner in your local commercial district is a small, but important voice. He or she is a testament to something Margaret Meade said long ago: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Matt Trocker
Matt Trocker

Living in SF I see canvassers almost everyday. Most of the time I will tell a canvasser that I'm already a monthly giver, and in many cases this is true. The other night, before reading this piece my fiance and I (both former canvassers and canvass directors) were discussing if we would want our children to be canvassers. We both agreed that even though canvassing is a hard and often thankless job, we would be proud if our kids decided to take part in a canvassing movement.

Canvass offices are full of energetic, capable, positive people who are willing to work and gain experience working for what some (myself included) consider the most important issues facing the world. It's refreshing to know that many young people will build upon their experiences at the Fund to continue down a professional path of doing good rather than exploitation - of people and of resources.

I canvassed for the Fund and most of the contributions I raised went to lobbying organizations. The power a lobbying organization wields is while standing in front of lawmakers and showing them a list of the paying members of their organization, introducing people who care enough about a certain issue, whether it be open spaces in New Jersey or safe pharmaceuticals in California, these lists are not just people who signed a petition, but theses membership lists include voters who care enough about an issue to put some money behind their values. And, in my experiences, lawmakers listen to people who spend money. I respect canvassers and see the value in their work because they are willing to sand outside and talk to strangers and try to bring to light some of the most egregious injustices of the planet. Some people give, some people ignore them, and whether I give or not, I am grateful that there are people reminding me and all of Haight St. that there is so much good work that still needs to be done.

Shaktas Na
Shaktas Na

The charities keep hiring them because they do not care about the people they are supposed to serve-they want to skim off the top. What accountants are truly paying attention? Nonprofits are just another word for: abusing the abused to serve pockets and egos. Orphanages used to act this way as well.

People are, as usual, confused. They are so quick to throw their money at a problem to make it "go away" that they, in their need to feed their benevolently-inclined egos, do not realize(or care) that their money has done nothing for the people it is supposed to serve.

tjfacts
tjfacts

If GCI and canvassing are so bad for these reputable & effective charities, why do these charities continue hiring GCI? I suppose the answer is the charities know there is a long-term revenue stream created through monthly donors signed up on the street, and they also place value on in-person, face-to-face education and the building of name recognition. It seems the article's author misses these major points.

Klane66
Klane66

Think about it this way. It is like a company doing Research and Development. The information gathered helps create new and better products down the road for which profits may not be seen for years. This is the same with canvassing for non-profits. The product for a non-profit like these is awareness, an educated and active public. Just having the conversation about important issues with someone face to face has huge value, that canvasser has spread the word about important issues which is invaluable to the organization, has given folks a way to make an impact by getting involved and in taking a stand on something they believe in, and probably most importantly to have public conversation which is the underpinnings of democracy. That donor who gets involved is also more likely to stay a donor and give to the agency again meaning the the initial R&D by the canvasser makes a financial profit down the road but initially that donor has a value that it is actually much more valuable for the non-profit than anything a financial ledger will show, thus the basic underpinnings of this article miss the basic point of what it means to be a non-profit grassroots organization working to engage people in democracy. We don't skewer "for profits" for doing R&D and not gaining an immediate profit, why should we do the same with social movements.

Guest
Guest

I do not see the problem this article is intended to illuminate. Non-profit organizations hire a company to hire, train and manage a staff of (mostly) young people to grow the membership of the non-profit, raise funds to support it, and educate the public about their particular issues. It costs money to do these things, and as is the case with many modes of reaching the public, the activity barely pays for itself. (For example, direct mail loses money -- and wastes a lot of paper, too).

Is the author suggesting the canvassers should not be paid or should be paid less? Then we'd see an article about non-profits taking advantage of idealistic young people. Is the author suggesting that non-profits should not actively try to grow their membership, try to inform or persuade the public about an issue or try to raise money? Advocacy-oriented non-profits derive the limited power they have from representing the interests and views of lots of people, over time. It's hard work to find those people, get them to show their support initially (with money or by signing a post card), and to engage them more deeply over time, which is when the organization really benefits. Being approached by a street canvasser is often the start of those relationships.

It definitely seems that the author is suggesting that canvassers should not say that 100% of the donations go to the non-profit organizations. I think that one's level of concern about this statement correlates to one's level of understanding about how non-profit organizations work. 100% of the money raised by canvassers or other ways DOES go to the organization, but obviously the organization is going to spend it to further its mission (that's the point, after all). So the organization spends some of its money on canvassers who increase public awareness, sign up new members and raise money. These are sophisticated non-profits we're talking about -- they know that the cost of doing these activities is more than worth it to their organizations. It's valued and valuable work, and rather than insinuating that there's something to hide, the author should be applauding organizations who are using effective ways to engage with the public.

e_dog
e_dog

To make matters worse, GCI field officers don't hesitate to try and bully actual volunteers off of areas they consider their corners. One night when I was volunteering for a signature campaign, on a public sidewalk, I was told by a GCI canvass director that I should collect signatures for a statewide referendum elsewhere, for fear that pedestrians would confuse marriage equality with Greenpeace (er, Environment California).

Sorefeet400
Sorefeet400

Greenpeace isn't associated with GCI, dude.

Guest
Guest

I wonder how Taylor Friedman imagines organizations reach the public. I assume she has researched the costs of direct mail, the costs of phone outreach, and the costs and outcomes of other companies like Grassroots Campaigns. Perhaps she imagines that organizations do not strategically advertise, recruit, and build their base of support, or perhaps that these services come at no cost.

There is new research published daily on the impact of empathy and personal connection on the neurochemistry of another. Reaching out to supporters in person is the most direct and effective way to connect an organization with masses of people. For every person that blows off a canvasser, there are countless others who not only support and donate to the cause, but are also greatly appreciative of the political value of canvassing. Contributors have the same level of arousal as those that dislike canvassers, if not more, when stopped on the street by a canvasser. Only their arousal is positive, infectious, and hopeful. Organizations that invest in this positive scenario between canvassers and supporters see a greater long term outcome than the original contribution. They receive political support; names and emails of supporters that will write letters, sign petitions, and stand with the organization on issues they already believed in and had yet, prior to meeting a canvasser, had the opportunity to act on.

There is no higher revenue to a non profit organization than a growing constituency. The value of small donors has risen greatly, and was remarkably useful in the successful campaign of President Obama.

Canvassing income does go directly to organizations. Organizations DO invest in companies like Grassroots Campaigns- because their service is incredibly valuable. They offer much more than fundraising. They offer organizations a chance at growth, sustainability, and the opportunity to introduce themselves to every other person who walks down the street.

Fortheloveof
Fortheloveof

I'm sorry, but I disagree. The author is saying that the canvassers are not being upfront even when they are asked about these costs in order to make a quick sell, which is unethical. The commenters on this thread are distracting from that and making this an argument about whether charities should use professional fundraisers. I don't believe the reporter ever said that charities should not seek outside help or have costs. This is about one company's dishonesty with donors and its mistreatment of its own employees. Are we reading the same article, or are you defending that canvassers tell people that all donations go to the charity without elaborating, when their documentation says 0 percent does?

Guest
Guest

To tell supporters that 100% of their donation is going toward the organization is entirely upfront. The costs of the service are a technically separate issue. Organizations budget for advertising, and those costs may even out, or amount to whatever difference they amount to, yet still the fact remains that the income generated by canvassers goes entirely to the organization. As does the continued support of many contributors long after the contracts with fundraising firms expire. When I contribute to canvassers, I make the check out to the organization name. I know that it is cashed by the organization. I also understand that every organization I am a member and supporter of has costs associated with growth. I want the organizations I support to have the greatest growth potential and to use that growth to make a difference.

To the specific issues of a canvassers inability to explain, I can easily imagine that canvassers have a lot of information to work with in a small amount of time, and may not yet have the proper language to explain how it all works. To me, that is far less important that the fact that they are out there, attempting to build a wider net of support for very important organizations that have weighty impact on some of the most critical issues.

Atm22
Atm22

Canvassers are people. Some of them understand and are able to articulate how the contracts signed hiiiiiigh above them in national headquarters work. Some are not. Just because a reporter asks a question to a canvasser who does not know or does not know how to articulate where exactly the money goes it does not mean a) none of the canvassers know or b) that the canvassers are somehow being "tricked" or misinformed.

Guest
Guest

The life of a new canvasser is pretty fast-paced. Being able to articulate on a cause in a compelling way is not the easiest thing to learn, and my understanding is that most canvassers begin canvassing on their first day of work. I consider that an example of Grassroots Campaigns respect for client costs; utilizing all of their staff at every opportunity to further the clients cause. Most people stop for canvassers for a short amount of time, and I understand why training would be more focused on the issue rather than administrative procedures. Perhaps there is a simple way for canvassers to explain that organizations invest in outreach firms because they need to conduct outreach to grow. In that context, saying that 100% of the fundraising income goes to the organization is completely accurate. It also gives the canvasser the opportunity to provide context on canvassing and the grassroots movement, and further strengthens the support for both.

Beth
Beth

The canvassers have enough time to memorize entire scripts, so don't tell me that they don't have time to learn how to tell people that their company is paid when they are explicitly asked. The problem is that whether you like it or not, they are required to account for the fact that Grassroots Campaigns is paid when they are asked about it. It is not a "technically separate issue" as you put it. Not according to commercial fundraising law. It is great that they are doing work for charities and helping them grow. It's not so great that they can't be completely candid with donors about that work.

Fortheloveof
Fortheloveof

This article says that according to California law and charity watchdog groups/professionals, it is not upfront. The law is cited throughout the piece.

Many groups not like this
Many groups not like this

Way to vaguely attribute one company's (and only a few organizations') plight to that of all grassroots organizations. Terrible reporting to not acknowledge this is not how all groups work. Taylor Friedman, how bias are you? Thank you, Mr. Friedman and SF Weekly, for negatively portraying and impacting the good causes and canvassers who are working hard to make a difference.

Guest
Guest

She listed which groups used this company. That is not vaguely attributing it to all other groups. And how exactly is this biased? She found out that what these kids were saying conflicted with what CA says they can say.

TheRealBias
TheRealBias

Just because she has exposed something you may not like ... that they're doing something at odds with what fundraising laws allow ... does not mean it's biased or terrible reporting. The Federal Trade Commission and other fundraising watchdogs agreed that they are misrepresenting how the money is distributed. Are they just biased, too?

Missy B
Missy B

Wait. Hold on.. I just took five entire minutes to call the head office at Planned Parenthood. (Google. It's maaaaaaagic.)

Here's what they said at PP.. They pay a flat monthly rate.. like a subscription rate (my words) to GCI in advance of the month of canvassing. No other money is collected after that one-time fee and there are no other costs to them to GCI. The $10 I donate to them every month does in fact go straight to them. They did have to pay the flat rate for that month, but my donation to them continues.

I have to assume that this monthly rate must be pretty substantial, but nobody's being held over a barrel there for this labor. PP has been working with them for a long time and said that the monthly fee was "well worth the donations" collected.

I don't know about any of the other charities, but PP is just fine with it..

Call them up. 800-430-4907

Readeragain
Readeragain

I like SF Weekly and appreciate your fresh perspective on something, we encounter on a daily basis but never knew 'the rest of the story'.

Reader
Reader

When I encounter the young solicitors, they are usually so engaging and I would like to believe everything they say is true-but my gut instinct does not agree. Sometimes, I will let them say their piece, then smile and explain, I just don't have have any extra at this time. It's my belief, they are simply trying to make a little money and if they had a choice, they wouldn't be doing this for a living. As for the those behind the scenes, I hope and wish they have good intentions.

Charliebrownnn
Charliebrownnn

If they had a choice ? Dude, I am a reproductive rights activist and I live and breathe Planned Parenthood. What a patronizing and condescending comment about smart, capable young people who are working for organizations they strongly believe in. This is one of the hardest jobs in the world. This article just made it harder. You don't stand in the street and get called a murderer and a slut if you would rather work in a coffee shop.

Ed P
Ed P

I've given to both the ACLU and Greenpeace for years, generally through checks in the mail; in both cases, I got the initial info on how to donate online. Recently, canvassers on the street for both organizations convinced me to switch to monthly credit-card donations rather than regular annual donations/memberships. Glad to hear Greenpeace canvassers actually work for Greenpeace, but sounds like the ACLU paid to re-acquire someone who was already a member. Boo!

not dick Cheyney
not dick Cheyney

BREAKING!Broad brush journalist uses broad brush.

This hit piece takes great pains to trash an entire profession & poison the well for the uninformed potential donors for years to come. By not mentioning that not all groups use this same business model, people can ratchet up their avarice to eleven, using their excess cash for plastic junk from China, or a 2nd daily Frappucino.

For the record, Greenpeace canvassers are employed by ONLY Greenpeace, are not commission-based fundraisers, and can say EXACTLY how much of the donation goes to the group (that number is 84%).

Congrats to SF *Weakly* for making a hard job harder for some of the most dedicated young organizers on the face of the Earth.

Nobody.
Nobody.

It's funny; The Fund is told to use the same "100% goes to the organization" line, even though I knew that could not possibly be the case. Maybe for the Human Rights Campaign, which is the Fund's only proper contracted partner group (because they lost Sierra Club as a client earlier this year for undisclosed reasons), but I don't see that happening for groups within the Public Interest Network the Fund canvasses for.

In fact, some state PIRG and Environment groups don't have anyone actually working under them; they're just a name and a logo. When a press release needs to be made, oftentimes a Fund canvass director will be borrowed to make the statements instead. Naturally, this raises the question of where the money goes when one is fundraising for an organization that has no staff.

Eric Brooks
Eric Brooks

Your second paragraph is false. PIRG and Fund offices don't work that way. Fundraising and canvassing are utilized to provide the financial ability to hire grassroots organizers to sign up members, raise funds, -and- take part in political campaigning. That's the beauty of canvass offices; young people canvassing for their own pay is what -enables- those canvassers to also be organizers and make a difference.

Likewise, canvass directors are not simply hired to run the actual canvassing, they are also hired to help coordinate local and statewide grassroots organizing, and media work, from their canvass office.

This dynamic of activists raising their own pay and then spending a part of their work time (and part of the canvassing itself) to organize, is why canvassing is so powerful and effective.

over it
over it

This is incredibly short-sighted and shows a stunning lack of research into how donor acquisition (which is different from fundraising), actually works. I would guess that this writer is fairly young and is looking for some kind of big hit to jump start their career.

That's fine, but honestly as a news reader I see this exact same article by a different author on roughly a 3 year cycle. I suppose that if you don't really look into it it seems bad, but this writer should know that they're not really writing "news" so much as a recycled opinion piece.

Donor acquisition costs money. You are investing, to get more donors, which turns into more people-power and resources. Fundraising is just asking people for money and not caring if you ever see them again. This author would be wise to understand the difference. If you recruit 10 donors, each giving a certain amount per month, in the end you end up with much more money and power than if you don't make that initial investment. It's pretty simple.

Let's find something new for rookie reporters to write about.

People Power
People Power

With all this said, this story is HARDLY original or that interesting. Some young journalist comes along every so often to write about this tired old subject thinking that he or she is breaking some big scandalous story. YAWWWNN. Canvassing is the oldest and still most effective form of activism and engagement. What, do we expect the internet to go out there and change the world for us as we hide behind our computer screens? Is that what we have come to?

Go report on some real news about some actual bad guys!!! There are plenty out there!

As us progressives bicker about every last detail and work against ourselves we are allowing the true enemy to get out of site and run wild which is exactly what they want!

Look at the big picture here people and then decide where to best put your energy (especially Ms. Taylor Friedman)

Jason Olson
Jason Olson

Are you people crazy? Why do you think non-profits have to resort to hiring these kids (and please, don't tell me you didn't know they were getting paid)?

Because most Americans are ridiculously tight with their money. We spend lavish amounts on total garbage, but if we give a paltry $10 or $25, we expect some ridiculous return on our investment. Honestly, shame on you.

I've worked for non-profits for years, and I've done both paid street outreach (early 90s in college) and volunteer donor outreach (I currently stand on a street corner - without pay - for a very worthy non-profit). It's hard, backbreaking work. I'm one of the very, very, very few people who have it in them to continue to do this work without pay. Mostly I see people come for a single shift, or perhaps even a couple, then decide "it's not for them".

Meanwhile, everyone and their brother expects non-profits to do everything for free. They're expected to pay their employees virtually nothing, do everything with volunteer labor and donated materials, and somehow "make a difference" that is far beyond what they raise. Guess what, all of that costs a ton of money. Volunteer labor often costs the organization more than it's worth (because they have to be trained, given simple tasks, and overseen by a highly skilled person). Donated materials are often a total bust, and buying what you need is almost always more effective. And if you think non-profits get some kind of huge discount on things, you're completely naive. In almost every circumstance, they pay about the same as a regular, for-profit company would have to pay.

Here's a newsflash - if you want to change this, you need to give MORE (and I mean a lot more), not less, to worthy causes. You need to seek them out, and give a lot of your time (in addition to your money, which is needed desperately). Stop giving a fundraiser a hard time on the phone because you're donating $25 (or once did). Frankly, demoralizing that fundraiser isn't worth the lousy $25 they're getting.

So as soon as you eliminate your cable TV, Xbox, computer gadgets, smartphones, eating out, lavish car, expensive hobby, expensive holiday gifts, and everything else and donate that money, then you can begin to complain about the lengths non-profits have to go to in order to make a difference in the world.

Sniffy
Sniffy

guilt-tripping is not the best way to get me to donate

Akit
Akit

I find it much worse to see kids asking for money on the streets of SF and on BART, they ask people to buy candy and snacks, or donate so they can go on a school trip. Turned out something fishy was going on when a news agency started looking into this, especially when kids was selling items on the street during school hours or close to late night hours.

Andrew St L
Andrew St L

While I understand the importance of this article and exposing the Fundraising-Industrial Complex; I think it will ultimately set all these recent college and high school grads with little work experience back. Being a canvasser is an incredibly hard job, but being a canvasser in a shit economy is even worse. Now that people know their money isn't going to these actual charities outright makes their job worse.

As someone who gets it wrote this is really about donor acquisition, which is costly.

This one really hurts the Donors, the Non-Profits and especially the kids one the street trying to make an honest dollar working for what they idealistically believe in.

Shoop da woop
Shoop da woop

How's this for hurting non-profits: I would have gladly supported the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. I have the cash to do it. But I refuse to support these pushy fraudsters. The only way they'll get the message is if we stop donating. Vote with your pocketbook, it's the only thing they care about anyways.

So I did just that and I recommend everyone else do the same. I called and canceled my ACLU membership once I got accosted by one of these GCI goons. I let the rep know exactly why I could no longer support them, as they are destroying SF with these donation nazis.

Sniffy
Sniffy

I prefer to donate to charities directly, there's no need for a GCI middleman to strip a percentage of my donation.

Andrew St L
Andrew St L

Well, it hurts the non-profits image and there will be a lot of backlash about this... If anything, you (shoop da woop &others) should continue to donate directly to the non-profits that really do the work that the government cant and wont.

For the ACLU:http://action.aclu.org/site/Pa...

For Planned Parenthood:https://secure.ppaction.org/si...|utmccn=%28organic%29|utmcmd=organic|utmctr=planned%20parenthood&__utmv=-&__utmk=204607888

you gotta feel bad for those idealistic kids on the street though. This story just made their jobs 10x harder

John
John

"Do you have a moment for the environment?"

Someone Who Gets It
Someone Who Gets It

To disregard hard working, passionate, mission driven activists (who yes, raise money and build membership for non-profits, like that is a bad thing?) as "Clipboard Kids" is incredibly condescending.

I wonder if the inexperienced narrow-minded kid who thinks she is breaking some big story by making information fit her view point, wait, I mean, "journalist" has ever once really put herself in the line of fire to do the most thankless job ever for something she believes in. I am guessing not.

And, as someone said before, why does this "journalist" act as if she knows more about fundraising methods than the savvy development offices of large national organizations like the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and others? Non-profits have to spend money on this thing called donor acquisition. Most often they do it through direct mail. A great alternative that is much more engaging and leads to better donor retention is to reach out to someone at a personal level face-to-face. Yes, some canvassers are not the greatest and they are quickly weeded out at GCI, but you will have mediocre people in all lines of work, including journalism.

Bottom-line here: don't write about topics that you know absolutely nothing about and twist information, kid It is not the way to make a name for yourself, unless you want to end up working for Fox News, which is where I could almost see this article being accepted...

Sniffy
Sniffy

If the 'volunteers' are telling donors 100% goes to the charity and that is not true, donors deserve to know. That is not a 'hit piece', it's telling the truth.

Guest
Guest

Yeah, I think she does do something thankless that she believe in: Journalism.

Shoop da woop
Shoop da woop

Yawn. This post was obviously from a GCI exec trying to clean up this PR mess.

Bottom-line - the sidewalk scum (like that term better than "clipboard kids"?) need to be cited by SFPD under sit/lie or loitering laws. They're violating fundraising laws and misrepresenting where people's money goes. If that isn't considered theft, it's absolutely a slam-dunk case for fraud.

Let's call City Hall and have these scumbags sued and removed from our city.

Alex
Alex

GCI exec? how big do you think they are? there are no execs. do some research.

Ted
Ted

Shoop da woop,

Why so hostile? Perhaps you should look at the big picture, and also, refrain from name calling. These are human beings you are talking about.

Also, are you able to cite the theft, fraud, and fundraising laws you mention? I would be curious to see those. It is good to know we have a professional here to enlighten.

Maria
Maria

Grassroots campaign's street kids are obnoxious, snide and pushy. They start waving at you like they know you as you approach, then make snide remarks when you pass. I have had to intervene several times as they literally followed the elderly and unsuspecting tourists down the street berating them.

I am thrilled the SFWeekly is calling out the fraud and abuse of people who are just out trying to get through their day.

This company should have been shut down a year ago.

Eric Brooks
Eric Brooks

As a person who has directed canvass fundraising/grassroots operations for over 17 years, and for many nonprofits (almost always the organization itself) I have to make some important comments to this article.

The most important one is that door to door and streetcorner canvassing is not meant to bring much in the way of funds; its purpose is to break even while building an organization and its people power. When someone knocks on your door, or canvasses you on the street, their main job is to get you signed up with that organization as a member. That first contact costs most of what it takes to have the canvasser out there in the first place, but that first break-even contact is worth its weight in gold. This is because you have likely given your address, phone, and email to that canvasser, and that makes you both identifiable (including by electoral district) and *mobilizable* to the organization. Just those benefits alone are worth the money paid to the canvasser.

Finally here's the key point in relation to fundraising itself. That first break-even contact is -also- crucial to the organization's fundraising. Once you have signed up with the organization and they have your name and phone number, they can then -call- you in the future to both politically activate you, and most importantly, to ask you to donate -again- to continue your membership.

This is when the real fundraising takes place. A phone canvasser does not need to work as many hours, and raises -far- more per hour than a street canvasser because he or she is contacting interested and known contacts by name; people who know and trust the organization. It is in these phone contacts where the organization that initially hired the street canvasser starts making real and substantial money for the nonprofit itself. And this happens from the very first membership renewal, it does not take years (as the article implies) for this to pay off.

So, while it may be true that GCI is a little sketchy and over-the-top in how it responds to that question (and should indeed be more honest) trust me all, it is -worth- it for an organization to hire, even a for-profit like GCI, to make those first membership contacts happen.

In fact (and GCI pay attention) I have always been totally straight with people in door to door contacts when they ask this question. I start off by saying something like "Out here in the field, we just break even with this kind of work, and let me tell you why that's so important..."

And then I remind the person that I am 1) educating them on crucial issue, 2) giving them a political action (having them phone, write, or sign a post card to a politician - or sign a petition), 3) making it possible to further activate them in the future by phone and by email, and then 4) I flat out tell them, signing you up makes it possible for us to call you in the future and ask you to donate again so that the organization can continue doing this important work.

And you know what? People almost universally understand, and value, that honest, direct answer.

So, folks. Give to those street canvassers. It is crucial to the organizations who hire them.

And most importantly, give them your phone number and email, to ensure that the organization -can- make money from you as a member, and can politically activate you in the future.

Street canvassing may not be glamorous, but it is the bedrock of building organizations, and in doing so, it really does help save the world.

pstaylor
pstaylor

Agreed. This is about acquisition and raising awareness about the charity and their issue more than immediate fundraising. Also, while GCI's practice of saying all funds will go to charity is suspect, they are required, by law, to immediately give all the money they raise to the charity. From Gov. Code ยง12599,

"For each contribution in the control or custody of a commercial fundraiser, the NIA requires the fundraiser, within five working days of receipt, (1) to deposit the contribution in an account in a bank or other federally insured financial institution solely in the name of the charitable organization and over which the beneficiary charitable organization has the sole right of withdrawal, or (2) to deliver the contribution to the charitable organization in person, by Express Mail, or by another method providing for overnight delivery."

Fundraising, and particularly commercial fundraising, is highly regulated, especially in California.

faceofreason
faceofreason

"Regardless of whether it's legal or illegal, it's highly unethical." She said donors don't care who takes legal possession of the funds and when it happens. "What donors want to know is, 'If I hand you $100, how much of it is really going to go to gay rights, or be against gay rights, or help the dolphins?'"

So what qualifies as working for gay rights? Apparently fundraising doesn't? These orgs contract with GCI and are given 100% of the donation. If they choose to put it back into GCI to further expand their network (or to run GOTV or voter information campaigns) how is that not working for gay rights? The bottom line is that if these charities and advocacy groups weren't seeing their cause and organization strengthened by GCI's work, they'd stop contracting with them. I would assume that the folks at the ACLU are pretty damn smart and they've been with GCI for years.

 
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