Fund/PIRG/GCI: the Incorporation of the Progressive Grassroots

So, the Right has the money, and the Left has the People Power. We all know that's how the game is stacked. And ever since that whole shake-up in the 60s, when both sides got their boats rocked, the Right's been building this big machine and throwing money into it. Turns out they're pretty good at it! And the Left? We've been out knockin' doors, talkin' to the People, givin' them the Power--that's how we do. That's how the story goes.

And that's why this little book released last month is a big deal. In Activism, Inc., Dana Fisher of Columbia University traces the history of the canvass--from a vital grassroots GOTV tool of local politicians, to an innovative tactic for burgeoning advocacy/lobbying groups in the 70s, to the big-box fundraising industry that sprawled out through the 90s and continues to grow today. Fisher's book is billed as the first formal study of the modern fundraising canvass ever published. (She recently published a piece in the American Prospect that more or less summarizes her argument.)

Mike Connery interviewed Fisher over at Future Majority last week about the canvasses described in her book. "This is not what democracy looks like, and it is not what progressive politics should look like either," he wrote in a post accompanying the podcast. But how can door-knocking to drum up People Power look like anything other than democracy?

Well, Fisher's book starts from the fact much of the progressive canvass world has been consolidated under one roof -- acronymically speaking, that would be FFPIRG/GCI -- the Fund for Public Interest Research and its network, including most of the PIRGs, Telefund, and Grassroots Campaigns Inc (GCI), a conglomerate that altogether is the single largest employer of "progressive activists" in the country.* (I wrote about Fund/PIRG/GCI's shared campaign model here in the "Strip-Mining the Grassroots" series.) Fisher then takes the time to do what no one has bothered to do in decades: ask these canvassers about their work. Fisher's conclusion is announced rather boldly right there in the book's subtitle:

How the Outsourcing of Grassroots Campaigns Is Strangling Progressive Politics in America

Early press on the book has focused on the "controversy" surrounding its release. In "Scorching the Grassroots" (9/15/2006, Chronicle of Higher Education), David Glenn reported that this summer the Fund actually sent Fisher a letter that may or may not have contained a threat of legal action against the publication of the book. That article went on to track a back-and-forth between Fisher and eminent figures like Donald Green, co-author of the seminal Get Out the Vote!, and Heather Booth, co-author of the canvass-boosting Citizen Action and the New American Populism, who are both quoted as "critics" of the Activism Inc's conclusions--at least the conclusions as expressed in that bold subtitle. Green and Booth make positive defenses of GOTV canvassing, and the act of canvassing itself: "I think that the canvass is one of the most important tools of direct voter contact that we have," Booth is quoted. "To some extent, it helps people to stop bowling alone." But this (perhaps unintentionally) conflates the issue. The value of canvassing as a tool of civic engagement is not being questioned -- rather, the issue is the Fund's model and its dominant place in the industry. It wouldn't be accurate to say that a critique of the Fund is a critique of fundraise canvassing -- but it's close, and that itself is part of the problem.

Fisher notes that the Fund's client list features 25% of the organizations in the America Votes coalition. The country's second largest canvass subcontractor, the Progressive Action Network, is but a fraction of this size. Add in GCI's contracts with MoveOn and the DNC, and this is indeed a "near monopoly."

And yet, other critics of Activism Inc--as well as many commenters in the discussions we've had in these blogs--mischaracterize the argument in the opposite direction: as if the claim is that the Fund is singularly responsible for the Left's downfall. This also misses the point. So let's see if this mess can be straightened out.

Fisher's book advances its argument primarily on two levels:

1) She produces an ethnographic study of the Fund's canvassing staff, compiling the results of interviews with more than a hundred subjects, as conducted at multiple points in over a year's period of time.
2) She interprets these results to argue that the flaws in the Fund's model are also present in the trends that have weakened the modern Left. (Broadly, these trends are the mechanization of political activism--and its removal from local, personal contexts--which have stripped the grassroots of its essence and left only an impotent infrastructure.)

As you might expect, this second level is quite a reach. But Activism Inc's big-picture argument unfurls in a way that is rather similar--in both method and contention--to Crashing the Gate. In a "post-mortem" on the Left's 2004 election campaigns, Fisher interviewed a range of Democratic and progressive leaders (like Bill Bradley, and Josh Wachs, former executive director of the DNC) who acknowledge that when it comes to the `People Power' that should be the Left's real asset, the last few decades have seen a major loss of mojo--even with money and people pumping back into the system. This has happened in a number of ways, of which the Fund's canvass could be just one--and none of these sources quoted in her post-mortem seem to be commenting on the Fund's canvass in particular.

In the end, these interviews aren't breaking new ground - it's those study results from that first level that are most useful to us, and Fisher's hard data really drops down into two main points:

1)The Fund canvass is not a successful channel for professional advancement into the progressive movement. Less than 15% of the staff who participated in Fisher's interview were still employed at the Fund a year later. Of course, this is a summer job -- but only a "very small handful" of those who left had gone on to work in political or public interest jobs. Furthermore, those who do stay on staff have no access to real career paths into the wider progressive network, from which the canvass is pretty much isolated -- among all of the Fund's clients who spoke with Fisher, only one staffer could be identified as having "come up" from the organization's canvass.
2) Survey results confirm that the canvassers, as a group, were more politically aware than the general population; but one year after their initial involvement with the canvass, their level of civic engagement (as measured through voting and other means of participation) had dropped back to a level that is not higher than the general population by any statistically significant measure. The canvassers canvass, leave, and don't seem to stay involved.

Since the Fund/GCI/PIRG sees many thousands of young people pass through its recruitment meetings each year, all anticipating an experience in "grassroots politics," this is not a small pair of points. Of course, churn-and-burn is a problem inherent to political organizing of any sort. The tiered chart of attrition, as reproduced in Connery's post, is not some damning blueprint that reveals the Fund model's inherent flaw. This work is indeed "not for everyone," and a successful canvass operation is going to have to account for that by throwing a wide net. But Fisher's results suggest that the Fund's model of human-resource-intensive subcontracting actually exacerbates the churn, even feeds off of it -- that those levels of attrition are perhaps even maximized, and that there are untenable hidden costs (both opportunity costs, in terms of interactions that could have taken place, and negative externalities, in terms of interactions that leave a bad impression on the participants).

The question that Fisher's book doesn't try to take up is one of ENDS---of what actually happens with the money these canvassers raise, and how the organizations it funds actually contribute in any meaningful way to the progressive movement. To Fisher, who is a scholar of civic engagement, the means, the processes, are more interesting - especially since, for many of the thousands of participants (millions, if you consider the prospective donors) this interaction is one of the defining experiences of "grassroots" politics.

Now, if any Fund/PIRG/GCI senior managers were to come across this humble blog post, they might at this point be exclaiming "Ah ha!" and busting out a reference to their hallowed mentor, Saul Alinsky. His Rules for Radicals is used as a core-curriculum text for the FFPIRG ideology (to the horror of Alinsky's spirit, I'm sure), primarily for one chapter entitled "On Means and Ends." In its third paragraph, the wily old man writes:

The man of action views the issue of means and ends in pragmatic and strategic terms. He has no other problem; he thinks only of his actual resources and the possibilities of various choices of action. He asks of ends only whether they are achievable and worth the cost; of means, only whether they will work. To say that corrupt means corrupt the ends is to believe in the immaculate conception of ends and principles. The real arena is corrupt and bloody.

The Fund/PIRG/GCI's objective is to "grow the progressive movement," and that happens when a bunch of people are hired to sign up a bigger bunch of people at doors and on the street, which makes more money for the movement. If the money becomes the ends, and the people are reduced to mere means, then by Alinsky's logic it is unnecessary for managers to consider questions about the indignities and frustrations suffered by staff--it's even foolish to ask. But these are not just transactions taking place on the door, in the street, at the office--they're interactions--and Alinsky would be the first to remind us that human interactions have fundamentally qualitative values.

When Fund/PIRG/GCI asks "are [the ends] achievable and worth the cost?," they do not consider that qualitative value between manager, staff, member -- all they ask is `how quickly and cheaply can it be done?' That very well might be how they have become so "successful." But suddenly, this is not sounding so much like Alinsky. Suddenly, this is sounding like WalMart---or more aptly, like Enron.

  - / -

In my next post, I'll grapple with some serious criticism that has been issued at Fisher's book. Personally, I feel that Activism Inc offers a diagnosis but no prescription, as it does not contain a clear, actionable proposal as to what is to be done to make a better canvass model. Fisher's answer is essentially "get local," which is a fine thing to say in an academic discussion about civic engagement, but I think the problem at hand demands a more immediate prescription--one that addresses the interests of the canvassers as well as the needs and responsibilities of the progressive organizations who subcontract this work. [UPDATE: How about that, Lockse wrote essentially what I said I would cover...and she did it better than I could have, too.]

* -- In Activism, Inc, Fisher masks the Fund with the pseudonym of the "People's Project," which was a condition of her access to its canvassers; the anonymity was rather thin, however, since the People's Project was noted to be the largest canvassing organization in the country, and even its for-profit sister Grassroots Campaigns Inc was named. In any case, the Fund itself acknowledged its identity in Green's article.

Tags: Activism Inc, canvassing, FFPIR, field, Fundraising, GCI, grassroots, PIRG (all tags)



Re: Fund/PIRG/GCI: the Incorporation of the Progre

Here's something that I think is missing from both Activism, Inc, and this very thoughtful response and that is the distinction between what I would call organizing vs. a fund-raising canvass.

As Greg notes at the end, the ends of this form of "activism" is to raise cash, not to engage citizens in the civic process of governance. Yes the Fund's canvasses occasionally generate letters and phone calls to elected officials on specific policy issues. But mostly they get money.

This is not organizing. It is fundraising.

Organizing is the search for, training of, and engagement of local citizens in the civic process. It is about building permanent infrastructure that can channel a citizen's energy into actions: voting, communicating with elected and public officials, marching, and even more direct actions if necessary for the achievement of a civic goal, such as the passage of a bill to raise the minimum wage.

Can a fundraising canvass help achieve this through its ability to get people to sign petitions or make calls from the canvassers cell phone? Yes. Does this do what everyone seems so desperate to figure out, namely engage and mobilization large numbers of people, the left's main strength? No.

Criticize the Fund and GCI all you want for their management style and their lack of impact on building a core of progressive activists, but understand that fundamentally these organizations are not set up to do what people are accusing them of not doing, which is build a mass base of people willing to take action in support of progressive public policies.

What would have been a more instructive book would have been to contrast the model and approach of the the Fund and GCI with groups that do attempt to build mass bases among core progressive constituencies and move those bases into action. These include the best activist unions like many locals of the Service Employees International Union, UNITE HERE, CWA, Ca. Nurses Association, and membership organizations like the Sierra Club and ACORN.

Unions and ACORN especially employ professional organizers whose job includes recruiting members, giving them the skills and expertise necessary so members can run campaigns on issues of their own choosing, and keeping those members engaged in campaigns and the electoral process.

This is something that the Fund and GCI has never done, though GCI might say they do. But since they are in actuality simply buliding donor lists or running GOTV canvasses, they aren't really building an active, engaged membership.

What Activism, Inc should lament is the decline in membership-based organization that have always formed the backbone, if not larger body, of social movements: the Farmer's Alliance in the 1880's and 90's, unions (and the Communist Party) in the 1930's SNCC, CORE, and the NAACP in the Civil Rights Movement to name just a few.

But then, given the fact that organizing has dropped out of national consciousness I am not surprised that the author couldn't even conceptualize what organizing looks like.

by nathanhj 2006-10-05 09:26AM | 0 recs
Re: Fund/PIRG/GCI: the Incorporation of the Progre

I'm pretty sure the distinction is very much understood--and at the heart of the issue. Fisher actually grounds her critique within the larger body of literature that you're referring to, about the decline of participatory membership organizations, citing scholars like Ganz, Boyte and Skocpol at length. (I made similar references to Skocpol and Boyte's writing in a post about some history of civic institutions and activism in "Strip-Mining the Grassroots.")

by greg bloom 2006-10-05 10:08AM | 0 recs
Re: Fund/PIRG/GCI: the Incorporation of the Progre

I'm sure the distinction is understood.  However, I think one of the problems we have had in this blog conversations has been in distinguishing between critiques of the GCI/DNC fundraising, the GCI/MoveOn GOTV, the "organizing" the PIRGs/Fund does, and the actual organizing done by groups like unions or right wing churches.

I think a great deal of the overall point is that bringing in thousands of young progressives and burning them out on activism by having them canvass for a few weeks or a month means that they will never get involved in actual organizing.  I think that's one of the "negative externialities" that I keep babbling about.  :)

by dansomone 2006-10-05 11:06AM | 0 recs
Re: Fund/PIRG/GCI: the Incorporation of the Progre

Both comments here have merit I think. But what's been so distressing in most of the stuff I've been reading about Activism, Inc is that it fails to grasp the massive differences between canvassing and organizing.

Dansomone sums it up by saying "However, I think one of the problems we have had in this blog conversations has been in distinguishing between critiques of the GCI/DNC fundraising, the GCI/MoveOn GOTV, the "organizing" the PIRGs/Fund does, and the actual organizing done by groups like unions or right wing churches."

I don't think people would be so distressed about the "churn" and the post-canvassing drop-off in being politically engaged if there was a large and vibrant sector of orgnaizations that was actually organizing in the sense of unions or ACORN.

Certainly ACORN, which put over 10,000 people in the streets during the run-up to the 2004 election, has shown a willingness to move these GOTV canvassers into the long-term work of being community organizers. Organizing, like canvassing, is not for everyone. Fewer people, in fact, make it as organizers than as canvassers.

But I don't think The Fund is "crowding out" other groups by depriving them of potential staff and volunteers so much as it is the only game going with the capacity to bring so many staffers in within short periods of time. ACORN's GOTV canvass is the only thing I've seen of comparable size and capacity.

Is the failure to inculcate values of citizen action and the skills to pursue it by the Fund worrisome? Yes.

But if there were vibrant and large-scale organizing operations, it would be less worrisome because large numbers of people would be joining those groups instead/after getting burned by canvassing.

Instead of griping about teh damage the Fund causes, it would be better for Activism, Inc to show orgs that are actually succeeding.

But I'm just babbling here. Suffice to say I agree with both comments here and I'm looking forward to more substantial and in-depth debates.

by nathanhj 2006-10-05 02:13PM | 0 recs
Re: Fund/PIRG/GCI: the Incorporation of the Progre


That is a really great comment, but the one thing that I would like to point out that most of the campaigns employing the PIRG techniques do not state that they are fundraising, they claim that they are organizing and building membership. The sad reality is that the only field operations that many large membership organizations have, including MoveOn and (to a large extent) the DNC, is based off of the PIRG model. A quick comparison of the Field Directors (and other leaders) of these big groups with former leadership at the PIRGS is instructive, IMO, as to why this is the case.

A quick example- the DNC's field operations, outside of the funding of the state parties, is (to the best of my knowledge) all GCI and other PIRG clones, and if you look at their advertisements you can see how badly they lie (and lie, and lie...) about what it is that their field people do. I called up one of the numbers to hear their schtick after I saw a sign that said "help Democrats win in 2004! Help build up the local capabilities of the Dem party!" and it took me 20 minutes of wading through their horrendous BS pitch to get them to admit that A) this wasn't going to help in 2004- AT ALL and B) they don't really raise money for any local groups, including the 50 state strategy, since almost 100% of the money taken in simply pays the canvassers.

Self interest wins the day yet again, I guess...

by Alex Urevick 2006-10-05 01:14PM | 0 recs
Re: Fund/PIRG/GCI: the Incorporation of the Progre

I totally agree that their marketing is the purest bullshit. I would point out that, though, that the realy money in a canvass operation comes from following-up with people who donate at the door. The direct mail and phone solicitation that comes after the donor is acquired is where the client org makes its cash.

I also think it is sad that groups don't have their own field capacity, which is an example of the decline of membership-based organizations and the decline of party organizations in the wake of the ascendancy of mass media.

Building your own field capacity requires the creation of a certain internal culture and the investment of a lot of time and effort with very little front-end payoff. Not to mention the people with the skills to do real organizing are few unless you create your own, which takes a long time.

I'm not excusing, so much as lamenting and pointing out why it doesn't happen. But until it does The Fund is going to rule the roost for field contacts whether they call it organizing or canvassing.

Unless for some reason progressives thought it would make sense to invest in expanding the capacity of groups like ACORN and the Sierra Club and USAction and promote union organizing. And maybe bringing back the Dem party precinct leader infrastructure. Then you wouldn't have to worry about buying field capacity because you would already have it. But its a long-term commitment and that doesn't work well in an environment dominated by 2-year election cycles.

Something to think about.

by nathanhj 2006-10-05 02:25PM | 0 recs
Re: Fund/PIRG/GCI: the Incorporation of the Progre

I want to clarify, after Alex's comment, that it does seem like the DNC's 50 State Strategy is a big step into the right direction vis a vis truly grounded, long-term organizing. Bizarre as jasmine's comment below is, that Dean-NYT mag article was actually on my mind all week--Dean is funneling money out of the central party, out of Washington, and into the party presence in the states.

Now, we've talked plenty about GCI's DNC canvass already - should the DNC be running a canvass in addition to the 50 State Strategy? Well, yeah I think it's potentially a good complement. But the GCI/Fund model is problematic in the partisan, electoral context, fundamentally so: it's a long-term base-building effort being sold (to canvassers and donors alike) as a short-term action plan to TAKE BACK CONGRESS. That's a big contradiction; furthermore, it defines GCI's managerial environment, and exacerbates the Fund model's flaws.

The canvass could be a positive complement for the 50 State Strategy -- if it was also more about party advocacy, and about making positive contributions to the local and state infrastructure. And, of course, if it upheld the basic Democratic Party values of minimum wage and labor rights.

by greg bloom 2006-10-05 04:13PM | 0 recs
Re: Fund/PIRG/GCI: the Incorporation of the Progre

There are definately ways in which a canvass can augment a long-term stragety to build capacity and infrastrucutre. USAction affiliates have done this and I know about an effort in suburban Philly by ACORN that does something similar.

I agree that it is about the goals going in and about ensuring that it supports efforts that build something real and long-lasting, rather than just building a donor list (which is importnat, don't get me wrong).

The key here is that a FUnd-style canvass is a good tactic to use in a larger startegy. Not a strategy in and of itself.

by nathanhj 2006-10-05 04:23PM | 0 recs

Well said.

by Alex Urevick 2006-10-05 08:56PM | 0 recs
Re: Fund/PIRG/GCI: the Incorporation of the Progre

I would point out that, though, that the realy money in a canvass operation comes from following-up with people who donate at the door. The direct mail and phone solicitation that comes after the donor is acquired is where the client org makes its cash.

You know, I bet you that you could hire a marketing firm that could find these people much, much easier and cheaper. And I doubt a marketing firm would exploit young activists, destroy our long term capabilities, and help fuel the decline in membership organizations that you point to. If these groups can't gain membership without pyramid schemes and Amway sales techniques, then they don't deserve to exist.

I have seen many stupid ponzi schemes in my life, but this one really takes the cake. I have a bridge in lower Manhattan that I want to sell whomever is paying for this contract at the DNC.

Come to think of it, we're all getting suckered.

by Alex Urevick 2006-10-05 08:46PM | 0 recs
Re: Fund/PIRG/GCI: the Incorporation of the Progre

Alex, I think we agree on a lot of the macro-stuff related to the use of Fund-style canvassing in a larger progressive movement context, but I think the history of canvassing over the last 30 years shows it to be a very cost-effective way of acquiring a donor list.

If you really sat down and ran the numbers I don't think a marketing firm would come close to working out.

I'm also distressed by your characterization of the canvass as a pyramid scheme. In a Ponzi scheme, the new investors coming in pay for the old investors cashing out until it collapses. A canvass acquires names for a list that are then used for a variety of fundraising appeals. This is a sound fundraising technique (the post-acquisition appeals) used by non-profits across the country, politically oriented or not. In no place are new donations used to cash out old donors.

IMHO opinion the most damaging critiques against the Fund and GCI are the management model and the idea that generations of potential progressive activists are being burned. I'd also say that its a damning critique to point out how this isn't really organizing, but that would require the people who contrat with the fund to actually understand what organizing is in the first place, which it's pretty clear they don't, otherwise they wouldn't be contracting with them in the first place.

by nathanhj 2006-10-06 07:51AM | 0 recs
Re: Fund/PIRG/GCI: the Incorporation of the Progre

Sorry to distress you Nathan, but I'll stick by my characterization, though in this case it's a pyramid scheme that preys upon idealistic young activist. In this case I am not saying that the monetary side of the canvass is the scheme, though I still have yet to see any hard data that these schemes help MoveOn and the DNC financially (for other groups, such as Greenpiece and the Save the Children campaign that I see everywhere I turn, that don't depend upon local organizing then I might be persuaded to see the benefits), while I have seen plenty of evidence of the terrible toll they take on our party. The pyramid part of this scam is the "enticing" young activists in, chewing them up/exploiting the hell out of them, and spitting them out, all in the name of "making a difference". Yes, some people might climb up the pyramid, but the vast majority are going to leave with only a sore rear end.

I'll say it again- this is NOT a "sound fundraising technique" when it is not part of any real movement (which I don't really think that you disagree with). There are plenty of local political groups, doing real field work, that could use the money a lot more than either GCI or MoveOn/DNC. The fact is that MoveOn/DNC/GCI make it harder for local groups, those groups they purport to help.  

Now- if a canvass is part of a larger campaign, then I can see the value, but the activities of MoveOn and DNC done through GCI do not qualify as belonging to a larger campaign, except in the most remote/abstract way.

The last thing that I would point out is this:

I think the history of canvassing over the last 30 years shows it to be a very cost-effective way of acquiring a donor list.

Hmmm. What else has characterized the left over that same exact period? Stagnation. Decline. Destruction of labor/environmental/consumer protections. Lossing (over and over).

Coincidence? I think not.

It's time to scare the foxes out of the henhouse, it's time to purge the PIRGS from the party!

by Alex Urevick 2006-10-07 06:14AM | 0 recs
Re: Fund/PIRG/GCI: the Incorporation of the Progre

"The last thing that I would point out is this:

   I think the history of canvassing over the last 30 years shows it to be a very cost-effective way of acquiring a donor list.

Hmmm. What else has characterized the left over that same exact period? Stagnation. Decline. Destruction of labor/environmental/consumer protections. Lossing (over and over).

Coincidence? I think not.

It's time to scare the foxes out of the henhouse, it's time to purge the PIRGS from the party!"

Alex, I'm pretty sure we're mostly on the same page here. I definately agree that a canvass without a larger strategy is potentially dangerous to a progressive movement. I agree that The Fund's model does a poor job of cultivating progressive activists.

I'm not sure I'm a partisan of the thought that this is therefore the strangulation of progressive politics, so much as it is a symptom of a larger abandonment of organizing and civic engagement in the post-CRM and anti-war movement world.

But this last part, that I quoted above (sorry I'm so html illiterate that I can't make the cool snippet box everyone else uses), I just have to say "correlation is not causation".

First, I only said 30 years because this kind of mass fundraising used across the country has only really been done for the last 30-40 years.

Second, the collapse of organizing is the result of a number of different trends including the rise of mass media and direct mail advertising for candidates, the rise of television itself, the decline of unions, and the collapse of 1950's and 1960's membership groups that fed the 1960's movements. I'd also throw in the creation of the 501c3 organization as a result of the 1956 revision to the tax code and the post 1974 reforms of the political money system. It ain't just the rise of canvassing.

'Nuff said. We're basically arguing about commas when we agree on the chapter.

by nathanhj 2006-10-07 02:38PM | 0 recs
I'll have to agree to agree

Agree on all your points, including the fact that canvassing didn't cause the decline of the left. I would just amend my statement above a bit:  the correlation of the time-periods between the rise of the PIRG model and the decline of the left is a bit too striking to ignore, but that decline has many parents...

Nuff said.


by Alex Urevick 2006-10-07 03:19PM | 0 recs
Re: Fund/PIRG/GCI: the Incorporation of the Progre

But you can accept Dean's premise and still wonder whether his 50-state strategy is really the best way to go about building the party. Even some Democrats who support Dean's larger vision have doubts about whether he has built enough accountability into his model for financing state parties. Republicans, as I saw firsthand in Ohio during the 2004 campaign, demand certain metrics of their local organizers. Field workers are expected to sign up so many new voters, or knock on so many doors, by a given date, and people who don't meet their quotas and deadlines can find themselves replaced -- even if they're volunteers. Republican staffs in the states are required to take part in an unrelenting succession of conference calls with Washington.
. ne/01dean.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all&a mp;oref=slogin

I think CGI is doing nothing new.  Even Republicans demand metrics and goals on their volunteers.  So if you cant hack then dont join.

by jasmine 2006-10-05 12:33PM | 0 recs
Re: Fund/PIRG/GCI: the Incorporation of the Progre

I'm not sure this is a conversation about the evils of metrics. I don't think you'll find anyone who runs any electoral campaign, does any voter registration, implements GOTV programs, or builds membership-based organizations who doesn't whole-heartedly believe in setting goals, tracking numbers, and demanding accountability to them.

If there are no goals then it isn't a real effort, it's just feel-good civic masturbation.

For me the real question is what is canvassing and what is organizing and why is the difference crucial?

by nathanhj 2006-10-05 02:28PM | 0 recs
Re: Fund/PIRG/GCI: the Incorporation of the Progre

I don't think that Jasmine has ever actually organized a day in her life.  She clearly has horrible people skills.  I am willing to bet that she wouldn't be able to maintain relationships with volunteers if she tried.  And if she worked with paid staff, her turn-over rate would be through the roof.  I sincerely hope that Jasmine never works on a campaign for progressives and/or democrats.  I would be more than happy if she worked for the republicans because it would be a guaranteed loss for them.  


I have read all of your ignorant comments.  Don't take your inability to organize out on people that have done more for the progressive movement in the past week than you have in your whole life.  And yes, I am very aware that this is an ad hominem attack.  It's hard to argue with someone's reason when they do not have any.

by private kicker 2006-10-05 03:21PM | 0 recs
What is your motive?

Can you be more transparent on the nature of your group?  How many are you?  Who funds your protest group.  What is your goal. Increase your salary?
Lessen your hours or just disband GCI?

Because this is an organized takedown of GCI and the progressive movt.  Republicans have a counterpart.  So it seems this is not just exclusive of the Dem Party.

Talking about people skills?  Look who is talking--debating  by bullying and  punching below the belt.

by jasmine 2006-10-05 03:56PM | 0 recs
Re: What is your motive?

Umm, are you seriously saying the GCI is synonymous with the progressive movement?

And what would really be lost with no GCI?

I'm not advocating a position here, but this is strikes me as a fairly paranoid post.

I'm fully prepared to accept that GCi does very useful things, but I'm not prepared to accept that they are building a base or delivering infrastructure to a progressive movement. They are fundraising and they are doing paid door-to-door GOTV canvasses and they are mostly doing it with young activists who don't have a connection to the communities in which they work.

This is not evil, but it isn't building a movement either.

by nathanhj 2006-10-05 04:19PM | 0 recs
Re: What is your motive?

Does Jasmine work for GCI? Of course she does. Ignore trolls, esp. Astroturf Brand<c> Trolls, and they go away.

by Alex Urevick 2006-10-05 08:49PM | 0 recs
Re: What is your motive?

No I dont work for GCI  and I think you work for GOP  or a disinfo campaign.

by jasmine 2006-10-07 04:25PM | 0 recs
Re: What is your motive?

Mouth, meet foot. Mmmm, the taste of shoe leather.

Walks away, shaking head

by nathanhj 2006-10-07 07:28PM | 0 recs
Link to GCI .php

"A Day in the Life" of a Canvass Director/Assistant Director

   8:30am: Arrive in office.  Meet with co-director to debrief on previous night's canvassing.  Analyze overall recruitment and canvassing results, assess performance versus weekly goals, and adjust your plan to make improvements.  

   9:00am: Quickly complete administrative tasks such as updating staff payroll, depositing fundraising proceeds, and running recruitment ads for the following week.

   10:00am: Interview prospective candidates for your staff.  Describe the current campaign: a nationwide grassroots effort to stop President Bush's "Clear Skies" bill, which would undermine clean air protections and allow power plants to pollute more than under current law.

   11:00am: Meet with leadership team (field managers).  Get feedback on your plan for staff recruitment, discuss strategies for targeting neighborhoods and training specific canvassers on fundraising skills.  Develop a plan to contact volunteers identified through canvassing for a letter-to-the-editor drive.

   12:00pm: Run orientation with new canvassers, teaching them the basics of canvassing and practicing how to best talk about the campaign.

   2:00pm: Staff announcements.  Set team goal for the day, announce results from the evening before, read key updates from daily clippings and news stories.

   2:15pm: Meet up with the other four other people in your canvassing crew and drive out to a nearby town.

   4:00pm: Begin canvassing with a new trainee, with a goal of signing up 6 donors and two volunteers, and raising $200 for the campaign.  Give tips and feedback to build new canvasser's confidence.

   9:00pm: At end of shift, meet up with rest of crew and head back to the office.

   9:45pm: Arrive in office.  Debrief your staff individually on their shifts, giving advice on how to improve results.

   11:00pm:  Leave office to go hang out with staff and grab a bite to eat.

Apply online for this position here, or email your resume to James:

The DNC & GCI recruit hundreds of thousands of new donors; click here for more details. Political Action & GCI organize to take back Congress in 2006. theLifeCD.php

by jasmine 2006-10-05 04:06PM | 0 recs
Re: Link to GCI

And after all that you get a fat $60 check. Heck, that's almost minumun wage! And good thing you're helping the movement so much, because it would suck to sacrifice so much for a... scam.

by Alex Urevick 2006-10-05 08:55PM | 0 recs
Re: Link to GCI


This post is for a Director postion that pays 24K a year. That works out to be around $90 a day.

The base pay for a canvasser is usually around $60 a  day and they either work from 9-5 or 1-10.

This is not a big mistake, but you should probably know all the facts before you go around calling it a scam.

by thegatekeeper 2006-10-06 06:14AM | 0 recs
Re: Link to GCI

I know the facts. GCI is a scam, plain and simple. I called them and asked what they make, which is where the $60 a day comes from. And, I asked what the hours were, and they said 9-8, so I'm not sure where your 9-5 comes from.

If you think that most canvessers make the minimum wage then fine, back it up. And your $90 figure assumes that they don't work on weekends (or that they work 5 days per week) which I am not sure is true.

This is a pyramid scheme that preys upon young activists, join at your own risk!

by Alex Urevick 2006-10-06 06:29AM | 0 recs
Re: Link to GCI

I'll try to make this clear.  Note that this was the pay structure when I left as of last summer, it has changed slightly since then, but not significantly.

Canvassers work from (typically) 1-10 for the door canvass, street canvass starts and ends earlier.  The first hour of that is training, then transportation, late lunch, then canvass til 9, transport back, and cash out.  For that, they are paid (once they make staff) 50 bucks a day of work no matter what.  If they make the office "quota" they got 60 bucks a day plus a commission.  In Boston, canvassing for the DNC, we had people who hovered right around quota, and we had people who were raking in upwards of 200 bucks a day or more some weeks.  So it was pretty variable.

Field managers, people who directed a crew, made an extra 10 bucks a day for each day they managed a crew, and only if they were over quota for the week.  In return, they were at the office an hour early for map making and stuff, and stayed a bit late to cash out their crew.

Directors make around 24k a year, or more as they get some experience.  Typical work day starts at 9, goes til 11 5 days a week.  That's 14 hours a day, or 70 hours a week.  You also typically work both weekend days, either sending out a canvass or doing a field manager meeting or catching up on admin.  My experience was those days were "short," meaning 3-6 hours.  Usually added another 10 hours to the work week.  Directors also canvass themselves several days a week, and can recieve a commission off that canvassing.  I would rather punch myself then try to explain the bonus structure.  I was a decent canvasser, although not spectacular, I made a bonus most weeks, although it was typically small.  I know some directors who were good canvassers made enoumous bonuses.

All that being said, GCI is very far from a "scam."  I've never caught them in a wilful lie, even though they tend to be very brief and misleading in their initial ads and interview techniques (and as with any beuracracy, there was definately bad information).  A lot of the pressure is to get people "in the door," where staff enthusiasm is contagious.  But for the part I'm most familiar with, the fundraising canvass, it is very far from a scam, as it actually does build a donor list.  And, as other people point out, a canvass that pays for itself, as the DNC canvass did, is increadibly helpful in terms of building an organization.  I don't think a marketing group would have the same effect.

by dansomone 2006-10-06 10:04AM | 0 recs
Re: Link to GCI


I should clarify that there were small differences in different offices, with the base pay slightly higher and different commission rates.  Also, once again, these pay policies are about 2 years old now, so don't rely on them 100%.  The intent is to give a feel for how it works.

by dansomone 2006-10-06 10:16AM | 0 recs
Re: Link to GCI

uh Dan, How can you possibly say 5 Days a week.  

It is and was 7 days a week.

I don't think anyone should try and dispute that fact with me.  I worked for GCI for a year and a half as a Recruiter, Canvass Director, and Lead Organizer.

Let's work the math:

8:30 to 11 (We will minus an hour out of the day spent day-dreaming about a better life and looking for a new job on-line)

That is still 13.5 hours a day 67.5 a week for 5 days and 94.5 hours a week for 7 days.

24,000 / 26 = 923.08
923.08 / 135 = 6.84 an hour
923.08 / 189 = 4.88 an hour


by private kicker 2006-10-06 11:19AM | 0 recs
Re: Link to GCI

Umm, I said I typically worked 9-11 5 days a week, and then 3-6 hours on both weekend.  That's 7 days a week.

But somehow jasmine has once again gotten us babbling about wages, rather then the main point, which is how do we build a better progressive movement?

by dansomone 2006-10-06 11:47AM | 0 recs
Re: Link to GCI

If you don't see the pyramid structure of this scheme is a scam, that's fine. I'll say it again and again- GCI is a scam, and in this "buyer/worker beware" world, you have to watch your own back.

I've never caught them in a wilful lie

And you've talked with them? I'm impressed. Their posters in Philly say "make a difference in 2004! Fight to take back congress!" and that's what they say when you call them on the phone. Yet after a bit of pushing they admit that this is in fact a complete lie. Then they move on to the next lie- you are doing this to support the 50 state strategy- when in fact you are merely supporting their AmWAy canvass (THE SCAM). Some claim that they get money later from people whom they wouldn't have received money from before, but I find this highly questionable, and unless you can show me some research with valid controls that shows a large increase in donors using this predatory and dishonest technique, then I will continue to call BS on this and remind everyone at every opportunity that GCI is a SCAM

If you want to give to the party, just go online, this door-to-door-sales shit isn't building a party, it isnt' training and fostering any part of the movement, and most importantly it isn't helping change the coutnry ONE IOTA. Seroiously- if you need to reach more people hire a marketing firm, don't pretend that you are running a "field campaign" when it's really just an AmWay fundraising sheme.

And, as other people point out, a canvass that pays for itself, as the DNC canvass did, is increadibly helpful in terms of building an organization.

That would be assuming that the canvass had some effect other than raising money, which it almost certainly does not given that it is not part of any greater campaign and that the DNC's canvessers, for example, are not registering voters, are not iding voters, and are making it more difficult for those of us doing actual field work to do our jobs (try going up to a group of kids and asking them to register after the AmWay scheme has rolled through. They all say "not interested- that person over there already tried to get my money")

The DNC canvass is an embaressment and it is a disgrace, and whomever hired GCI at the DNC should be fired and blacklisted from politics.

Let's all give Howard Dean a big thank you for keeping the foxes in the henhouse- with all these calls for rebuilding the party it took some real guts to keep the BS artists and scammers on board!  

It's time for GCI and the PIRGS to go- for the good of our movement and for the good of the party. If Dean won't rid the party of the PIRGS then maybe, just maybe, it's time to end the honeymoon with Dean and get rid of him.

by Alex Urevick 2006-10-07 05:56AM | 0 recs
Re: Link to GCI


Then pretty much all prospecting is a scam by your logic. Have you ever got direct mail from a group that you have never given to that said, "Give money now even though we are not even covering costs by this we are actually losing money, just so that we can ask for more later?  

You really need to learn more about fundraising and the FUND before you start attacking them. The FUND is by no means perfect, but they are incredible fundraisers and party builders.

GCI added 700,000 new donors to the party.

I think that even Greg stated that is "no small thing." It seems to me that the debate should be more about how FUND/GCI has gotten to its accomplishments.

Lockse already told us that GCI asked to carry voter reg forms and the DNC said know. So really I do not see how that is GCI fault.

Despite all their canvavassing the PIRG's we able to run their New Voter's Project, using the CIRCLE study you sent in your diary about turning out Republicans, which was pretty successful.

Party building is organazing, that is what GCI is doing.

BTW Dan has mentioned that he worked for GCI for a good chunk of time, so I think he did a little more than talk to them.

Marketing firm? That would never produce 700,000 new donors.

People who give at the door do give again, that is the point of canvassing.

by thegatekeeper 2006-10-07 10:10AM | 0 recs
Re: Link to GCI

Then pretty much all prospecting is a scam by your logic.

Nope. GCI and the PIRGS are in my mind, but I do think that the technique is valid and important to local campaigns. I do have trouble when these big campaigns parachute in with their masses of young out-of-towners who decend upon a neighborhood and salt the land for those of us truly planting an emerging grassroots movement.

Let me ask you this: who did the majority of MoveOn's ground work in 2004? Where did all the information that was collected go? It certainly isn't helping those of us working on the ground today because MoveOn cannot or will not work with most local groups.

The FUND is by no means perfect, but they are incredible fundraisers and party builders.

Party builders? Friggin party builders? You have got to be kidding me. How has that party building been going since the PIRGs became the dominant force in field work for progressive/Democratic orgs? When the sugar high of that koolaid wears off you'll see that these groups have been stripmining the grassroots for years and share a large part of the responsibility for the almost complete lack of infrastructure on the left.

So really I do not see how that is GCI fault.

Well, then that's just one more knock against Dean and the DNC. WTF are these people thinking? Really- lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way, but don't put people on the ground who just make life harder for those of us who are taking the lead (disclaimer: I do youth outreach and organizing on Campuses and at concerts for the REAL grassroots organization PA PAC for Progress and their Philly Against Santorum campaign. These are my views and my views only.)

GCI added 700,000 new donors to the party.
I'd need to look at those #s a lot more closely before I gave it even the smallest amount of credibility. Judging from all of GCI's other lies, I'd guess that this is a stretch. And anyway, a donor is a lot different from a member, an activist, and certainly an evangelist. A movement is built of these three (and more) but is not build by "donors", though they are certainly important.

BTW- I just canceled my Democracy Bond. The DNC can kiss my white ass for getting in the way of the elections in Philly. Like I said- salting the fields is not growing shit, it's just harming those of us who are out here planting.

Party building is organazing, that is what GCI is doing.

Do you really believe this? I guess you do, but my question is: why? Or, maybe this is more to the point: SHOW ME WHERE GCI IS ORGANIZING OR BUILDING ANYTHING!

BUYER BEWARE!!! Grassroots Campaigns, Inc is a scam. After the election is over I really hope we can make a concerted effort to put them in the place they belong!

Demand an end to the "salting of the progressive land"! Demand the DNC drops GCI so the real grassroots can grow!

by Alex Urevick 2006-10-07 11:55AM | 0 recs
I really question your motives

Republicans have same thing and they have volunteers.

GCI is not well funded to give good wages.

There are so many volunteers working for free.

Because there is a bigger goal---that is taking back our country.

I really question your motives.

It is as if GCI is making money out of this.

by jasmine 2006-10-07 04:24PM | 0 recs
Re: I really question your motives

GCI is a for-profit org, so I frickin' hope they are making money at this on the theory that it gets reinvested in expanding their capacity.

If they aren't well-funded enough to carry out their contracts they either need to re-negotiate their contracts or get out of the business.

Finally, there isn't anything wrong with pointing out failures on our side, as long as we make an attempt to learn from them, which I think this discussion has done fairly well.

by nathanhj 2006-10-07 07:33PM | 0 recs
Re: Fund/PIRG/GCI: the Incorporation of the Progre

700,000 new donors just read here: 01.htm

Greg linked it above as well.

The DNC did not have a real small donor base and GCI helped them do that. I call that party building.

You more or less claimed above that they are a scam because they are just covering costs and do not tell people that at the door. No one that prospects tell people that.

So if a local group canvasses and only covers cost and does not tell the people at the door they are  not scam artist, but GCI is? Great logic.

The directors may be from out of town, but the canvassers are likely to be local which make up a much larger percentage of an office.

You may think that they get in the way, but that does not make them scam artist.

by thegatekeeper 2006-10-07 02:33PM | 0 recs
Say it with me kids! &quot;GCI is a Scam!&quot;

Even if that article did state that, which it does not, I would not take that as anything nearing fact (I could only find a few mentions of that number all coming from either the DNC or GCI- in otherwords it's suspect, since they both have a vested interest in inflating the #s). Even if the # is correct, you'd have to prove that a significant # of those people wouldn't have given otherwise or using other methods. For example- what percentage of the people who gave through the GCI door-to-door-salesman model gave through the netroots. How many of those people gave to other organizations in the past? How much of the money given to the canvass is deverted from other activities? How many activists/evangelists that would have turned out many other people did GCI chew up and spit out? How many people that they contact grow weary of future offers from legitimate local groups because of the GCI money push?  Etc. Etc. Etc.  

They do get in the way, that is a fact of my current life.

They are also a scam. Look at the rest of my comments on this thread- I do not say that they are a scam only because they don't actually take in much money for the DNC, though that's a part of it. It's a scam because they lure in young idealistic progressives who think that they can make some money and make a difference, and then they pay them less than the minimum wage, they abuse them and use all sorts of predetory anti-worker and anti-union tactics, they don't reimburse their employess on time, etc. etc. etc.

Buyer Beware!!! DNC/MoveOn Should Be Ashamed!!!

by Alex Urevick 2006-10-07 03:37PM | 0 recs


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