Tell Us Your Story 71


We’d love to hear what you have to say. Leave a comment or join a conversation below!

We know that for many, it may have been a while since you last thought about your experience with the Fund, and that you’re probably not one who likes to dwell on the past. However, it is important to remember that the Fund continues to recruit and mistreat new people everyday with impunity, and the only way all this will change is if we come together collectively and demand it. Please take a moment to reflect on and share your experience – it will make a world of difference for so many young and passionate activists, and the futures of worthwhile campaigns.

 

Don’t know where to start? Maybe one of these prompts will help.
Why did you start working for the Fund? Why did you leave?
What was your overall experience at the Fund for the Public Interest?
What impact were you hoping to make? Did you achieve it?
What would you change if you had to go back?

 

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71 thoughts on “Tell Us Your Story

  • Amy

    Hello, all! This is going to be a long, but entertaining story, so hear me out:

    I am a former long-term employee of FFPI (the Fund). I was hired with the Fund at the start of Spring 2012, during the beginning of what is known throughout the organization as “summer season recruitment”. I, like countless others, was hired over the phone without much of an interview, and given a date & time to arrive at the office ready to start my training. It is important to note that I had no idea what the job was, or what my training would entail. The day I arrived I was handed a script and told to memorize it, then we gathered in a circle to read it to one another. I was freaked out & getting a cult-y vibe at first, but I needed a summer job, so I stuck it out. My first day (known as the observation day), I was not told that I had to get a contribution or face termination. In fact, that lovely tidbit had been intentionally omitted by (what seemed to be) their leader. As if walking door to door all day reading a script to strangers wasn’t stressful enough, realizing at the end of my shift that had I not gotten a contribution I would’ve been fired was shocking, to say the least. Even though it was my first day, and though I’d done rather poorly in hindsight, at the end of my shift the director told me that she wanted to promote me as soon as possible. I was like: “THE FUQ”? Within a week I was promoted to the rank of “field manager”, which basically means that I took on a bunch of new responsibilities that I had no clue how to perform (because I wasn’t trained well), and led teams of people around neighborhoods asking strangers in their homes to give us money. The whole thing was totally bizarre.

    When summer was over the Fund promoted me again. They sent me to training in Boston right away, which was much more productive this time. Although I received a lot of useful, thorough training (for which I am still grateful), I do want to note that “director training” in Boston is highly unprofessional & an HR nightmare, if the Fund actually had an HR. Think of Spring break, but at work… that is director training in a nutshell.

    After my promotion & training I was sent to live and work in Chicago as the assistant director. I was fortunate enough to be trained how to street canvass by the CD and another long-term canvasser who spent over a decade at the Fund. I truly enjoyed the job in the beginning. We were determined to build one of the best teams of activists in the country, and we did. I lived, breathed, ate (when I had time) & sometimes even slept in that office. I was continuously inspired by what I lovingly referred to as our “work family”, and even more inspired by what HRC stood for. You see, in 2012 LGBT activists were all standing on a precipice and could practically taste marriage equality and equal employment rights, so our team felt like Chicago’s little gay army for change. Many of us even flew to Colorado to work unimaginable hours (under false pretenses laid out by the fund, of course), so we could get president Obama reelected & continue moving forward with progress. Even though the organization that we worked for was using and abusing us, our passionate idealism strengthened our resolve and we helped win that election.

    Fast-forward approximately six months later… the CD and I were a straight up hot mess. Being forced to work 12-15 hour days, 6 days a week, making $4 an hour will do that to a person. We were both affected in different, but equally damaging, ways. Our regional director was never satisfied with our efforts, too. He was always demanding more, even as we were the most successful office in the country & breaking monetary fundraising records while faced with Chicago blizzards. I cannot stress just how stressful it is to be a director–you’ll start to say and do weird things because you’re so tired you can’t think straight (pun intended). Example: one night in the office (very late, of course), the CD hatched a serious plan to make 1,000 paper cranes and hang them from the office ceiling. I not only encouraged this feat, but I told her I’d hang them all for her. We didn’t follow through with it, but it is this kind of sleep deprived (albeit cute & silly), thinking that every single director still working for the Fund is currently dealing with, but it is usually much, much worse. It isn’t morally right to demand that the most dedicated & passionate among us sacrifice our bodies and minds for this movement, even if we are willing to.

    I stepped down from directing after about 8 months. The CD stuck it out until we broke the all-time fundraising season record & it ended our season on a high note. I continued to canvass for the fund for 18 months after that season ended. I’ve met some truly beautiful people over my years at the Fund, & I’ve tried to regain that sense of hopefulness and pride I felt that first year I was there. I participated in pride events, was honored to represent HRC at the 2014 Gay Games in Cleavland, saw Marriage Equality pass in IL (thankfully followed by many other states), and helped to organize teams of activists to man Chicago’s phone banks for ENDA, but it was never fully satisfying after all of the abuse I’d endured for it. I won’t go into all the horrible things that happened to me regarding my pay, hours, & benefits while employed at the Fund, those are covered in our letter. I will, however, say this: in the end, the fund almost broke me, as I know it’s broken many others.

    I finally gave up fighting for LGBTQIAP rights (for a living, at least), & am now happily working for a much better organization that respects, values, and invests in it’s employees. Leaving the Fund for the Public Interest was honestly one of the best things I’ve ever done, and I’ve done a lot of things! If anyone from HRC reads this, please encourage them to split with the Fund. Take it from someone who knows, The Fund is truly ill-intentioned at heart, and nothing good will come of the continued association with such an organization. HRC is better than that.

    Anyway, that’s my very long story. It was fun to get it all out, so thanks for providing a forum! I hope it made you laugh at times, and shake your head at others; that’s about all I can do when I think about it now, too. Much love, my friends. <3

    WHO'S STREETS?!?! That's right… OUR STREETS!

  • Amanda

    It’s a really strange feeling for me to actually have the desire to sit down and do this. Since leaving the Fund just over a year ago, it’s been an active (almost daily) battle for me to continually suppress and/or overcome the innumerable host of negative memories and emotions that my two years directing the Fund’s Manhattan office left me with, but I truly do believe that my experience was not a particularly unique one and that’s why I feel it’s so, so important for all of us who can attest to the abusive nature of the Fund’s working model to take a few to do so in one public and potentially influential place. There are so many facets of this organization that are absolutely horrifying/ that I could go on and on about at length but I’m going to try to keep this (relatively) brief and just highlight a few things that aren’t already articulated in the letter hosted on this website to which I already proudly contributed my thoughts and experiences.

    I first started working for the Fund as a summer canvasser between my junior and senior year of college. I was living in Boston for the summer, needed a job, saw the Craigslist post and liked the idea of doing something political/meaningful. I remember making a conscious decision at the beginning of the summer when my directors started asking me about taking on more responsibility way before I felt I was prepared to (something I’d later learn is a major, major focus in the Fund’s model of staff management) that this was just going to be a summer job for me that I was not going to become overly invested in. I’d perform my basic responsibilities as a canvasser and politely decline offers to take on other roles while making it as clear as I could that I wanted to leave myself more room in the day to enjoy my summer outside of work. I managed to do so pretty successfully – though it did involve a lot of saying no and pushing back which made me uncomfortable. I remember really liking, feeling connected with, and admiring the three women who directed the office while at the same time noticing how overworked and tired they always seemed to be and feeling sad about that.

    By January 2012, I had finished school, moved to New York and was starting the process of job hunting. I remembered that the organization I’d worked for that summer had a Manhattan office as well and decided to submit an application specifically for a directing position because I had nothing but time at that point and figured it’d be as good a time as any to take on something challenging and time consuming if I felt it was going to be meaningful. I received a phone call hours after I submitted my application from the recruitment director (someone I’d worked with in the Cambridge office and had a good relationship with) asking if I was available for a Skype interview that week and was ultimately offered the assistant director position I’d applied for. The other assistant director who welcomed me into the office and trained me during my first week (and who I really liked instantly) told me at the end of that week that I was actually her replacement and made an abrupt and graceful exit (clearly trying to avoid leaving me feeling bad about the position I was inheriting, which I appreciated, though I’d later find out she was leaving for many of the reasons articulated in the letter on this website).

    A month into the job was the beginning of pre-recruitment season. Every spring, the Fund invests a huge percentage of it’s resources into sending directors to well renowned colleges and universities all over the country to talk to students about “great summer job” opportunities (using the HRC name/partnership as a major selling point in relevant cities), conduct interviews and offer pretty much all of them canvassing positions in whichever office is closest to where ever they plan to be living that summer. I remember thinking immediately upon learning about this system that that seems off – since canvassers are held to strict fundraising standards and it’s not uncommon at all for someone with great intentions to be fired after their three day trial period. How could we go out and offer these students guaranteed employment for the summer without knowing if they’d actually be successful at the job (especially when many of them vocalize that they would be turning down other opportunities or offers for this one)? The response I received when I voiced this concern to my staff directors was essentially that the college students we’d be talking to are the best and the brightest and should be able to do the job since (the Fund’s training/recruitment mantra) “canvassing is a basic skill.”

    It’s the same thing at the beginning of every summer – hundreds of “pre-recruits” show up ready to take on their first week of work across the country (after weeks of receiving confirmation and rapport building calls from whoever their local director will be) and many of them are shocked/confused/devastated when they’re told they are being let go for not meeting the fundraising requirements a couple days or a couple weeks in. I will never forget a conversation I had with one transgender pre-recruit who had had two options for a summer job – one that was higher paying and would have allowed him to move out of his abusive parents home for a couple months but wasn’t necessarily something he was extremely passionate about and a position in the Manhattan HRC canvass office fighting for the passage of ENDA. He chose to remain in a dangerous situation to accept the latter because the issue was so important to him and was (obviously) completely livid when he found out the position was not necessarily a stable one and that he was at risk of being fired within his first week on the job. It’s simply unethical that the Fund has it’s directors offer so many incredibly motivated students something that sounds like a legitimate job offer every year without considering how disruptive it might be to their lives when they fail to meet arbitrary fundraising standards after only a couple days of training and are left feeling burned. This sets these students up for an extremely negative first impression of the world of progressive activism and could certainly impact what they choose to do when offered similar opportunities in the future. I tried to keep my conversations with students as honest as possible without being “de-recruiting” while on these assignments and was often criticized for coming back without having met job offer goals simply because I didn’t make offers to students if I didn’t actually think it made sense for them to factor the (potential) job into their plans.

    On the subject of pre-recruitment, it’s also worth mentioning that the Fund does not provide directors with comfortable housing arrangements when requiring them to go on these trips that usually last 3 or 4 days. If the director doesn’t happen to know someone in the area or a current student at the campus they’ll be visiting, the Fund will provide them with a list of students at that school who have worked as canvassers at some point in time and it’s the responsibility of the director to reach out to these contacts – usually complete strangers – to ask if they can crash in their dorm room for the duration of the visit. Needless to say, it’s extremely unprofessional, uncomfortable and (frankly) embarrassing for the directors put in those situations while on mandatory, high intensity work assignments.

    The overarching problem with the Fund’s organizational model is that it treats both canvassers and directors as assets (or “bodies,” as it says on every centrally produced crew planning sheet provided to directors and intended for daily use) rather than as valuable, passionate, three-dimensional people.

    At a national director training I attended prior to the summer of 2013, I remember our regional group circling up to receive the newest iteration of our office specific summer staff policies (approximately 5-6 pages of pretty dense text that hardly changes from one season to the next except for an occasional figure, usually the fundraising requirement changing +/- five or ten dollars). I started flipping through mine and noticed that the base hourly rate for our canvassers was written as being a dollar less than it currently was. This made me absolutely furious and I told my regional director that I refused to go back to my office and tell the people who canvassed all winter (obviously the most difficult time of year for street canvassing) that they were suddenly going to be receiving less pay for doing the same job (and that I was pretty sure that had to be illegal?). She told me that she understood that I was worried about “my people” being upset with me about being paid less and that we’d figure out a plan for how to roll out the new policies. This was the first time I truly realized what a huge psychological disconnect exists between the national staff and local canvassers. To hear this regional director refer so dismissively to the Manhattan staff – some of whom had been loyally canvassing for the Fund on the behalf of HRC for upwards of 2-5 years – as “my people” and at one point even as “my friends” rather than with any degree of professional respect both made me livid and helped me fully understand how underappreciated (gross understatement) individual canvassers are by the Fund’s higher staff. Ultimately, someone else pulled me aside a few hours later and told me that the wage change had been a typo that was going to be corrected (clearly a major inconsistency with what I’d been told earlier). I couldn’t help but think this was simply someone backpedaling after an egregious action had been called out.

    A couple months later, my (new) regional director called me to talk about a problem that was going on in the other Manhattan office (one working on an environmental initiative). The new director who had just been hired with no prior canvassing experience was having trouble training and retaining staff. My regional director asked me to implement a plan in which I would overstaff my own office (still using our HRC mission as the rallying cry for recruitment), train up as many talented individuals as possible with the help of my more experienced staff and then have a conversation with some of them two weeks into the job pitching them on an opportunity to “make a bigger difference working in our sister office” and switch them over to the other campaign to alleviate some pressure for my colleague. I explained to my regional director that that was completely immoral – I was not going to hire people under the impression that they’d be working on a cause that they were deeply passionate about (really the only reason anyone takes on a job as unglamorous as street canvassing) and then tell them they had to go do that same difficult task for something that didn’t resonate with them personally. I told him that this didn’t only take away an opportunity for them to work on something that they actually care about, but that it directly threatened their financial stability as canvasser pay is largely commission based and it’s going to be more difficult for people who are deeply passionate about LGBTQ equality to effectively fundraise around clean water legislation than something they can actually speak from the heart about. We ultimately found a compromise that involved me asking three of my more experienced canvassers to essentially take one for the team and spend some time helping out in the other office – but that’s not a situation that any of them deserved to have sprung upon them either. Again, this situation was a clear illustration of the Fund’s paradoxical failure to acknowledge and active exploitation of the core quality that makes their HRC street team so valuable and effective – their actual passion for the cause.

    I quit my job with the Fund in December of 2013. The same regional director who I’d come into conflict with in the situation described above had come to visit my office and sit down with me for an evaluation. He told me that my biggest strength was the fact that I am an empathetic person who clearly cares a lot about “my people” (again, referring to the staff without whom the entire organizational model would cease to be viable)…”to a detriment.” He used the two situations described above as examples of instances in which I prioritized “my people” over the bigger picture and suggested that once my “commitment” to the Fund was up eight months down the road, I “consider making a bigger difference doing something different.” I asked him to confirm for me several times over the course of the next week that he really intended to tell me that prioritizing the well being of staff, generally, is something that is not in line with the values of the Fund and he confirmed each and every time that I was not misunderstanding him (with very weak rationale about the progressive movement being too big and having too much to accomplish to worry about things like wages and rest and people’s feelings). I spent that week simultaneously thanking him for confirming for me something that I’d seen and understood for the entirety of my time with the Fund but was either trying to ignore or was hoping might change, and reminding me that I would be better off seeking employment somewhere more in line with my values to avoid all the cognitive dissonance that came along with working for people who I did not respect and who I could clearly see did not respect me.

    I’m happy to say that it was not at all difficult for me to find a new career path with a company that appreciates and values me as a person.

    At the same time, I feel sad knowing that since the Fund’s inception 30+ years ago, innumerable young people like myself who were completely prepared to fully devote their time and energy to tackling gross societal injustices (like those that HRC stands for) have been deterred from furthering their careers in activism by a bad experience with the Fund. This is not the way that we’re going to win on issues of equality.

  • Nik

    Why did you start working for the Fund?

    My “origin story” is one of my favorites to tell. A little over two years ago now, I was in a very weird spot in my life. I was living in a small town with little to no opportunity to make my life long dream of fighting for a better world happen and I had just come to terms with my transgender identity (privately) after a several year long struggle. I also happened to be unemployed and my rent was due very soon. I applied many places that were hiring in the small Wisconsin town and then I stumbled upon the nonprofit sector link on Craigslist for the first time. I saw the ad to fight for LGBT equailty and followed that link to an a job ad promising me community organizing opportunities with the Human Rights Campaign’s famous blue and yellow equal sign on it. I knew this was in Chicago, but I also knew that I could catch a train from the next town over, and immediately called my parents to ask if they would be willing to help me with rides to the train station if I was determined to make this work. They agreed, knowing how badly I needed a chance like this, and I filled out an online application. I thought it was strange that I had the option to schedule my own interview slot on the website, decided to skip that step, and went on with my life.

    A few days later I was sitting in a car smoking a cigarette after the absolute worst interview of my life, scared out of my mind, having no idea what to do with my life. Then my phone rang, and it was the director of the Chicago Fund Office. I heard the job call script for the first time, and loved the campaign that they were hiring for (working to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act). Once she found out I was in Wisconsin she attempted to tell me not to come in for the interview (after realizing that I would have a four hour daily commute), but I insisted, and she relented.

    I went home and told some friends about the interview, I was brimming with excitement, I had hope. I did odd jobs to scrape up enough money to get train fare. The night before my interview, a friend’s mom reached out to me to warn me. She said to not be fooled, I would not be working for HRC, that I would be working for The Fund. That they would treat me horribly, she knew because she had suffered at their hands years before. She had me read the Glass Door reviews. I was upset, but decided not to listen, because I cared, because I was used to starving at this point and wages didn’t concern me, because I needed a way out. I went to the interview and was hired. I was very fortunate that the directing staff in Chicago at the time approached recruitment in their own way, and went against the Fund’s model. They warned me about how hard it would be, how I might not make it, the low pay, and the fact that I would be outside fundraising for five hours a day. I didn’t know this level of honesty was not the norm, and I appreciated it. I accepted the job, and went home to tell my friends and family. Every one was so proud of me. One aunt told me that she truly believed I had found what I was “born to do”.

    My first few days were absolute hell, I stood in a wind tunnel in downtown Chicago in windchill temps around 15 degrees below zero. On my second day, I managed to raise quota and make staff. I started to bond with several of the like-minded and bad ass canvassers in that office. I finally felt safe to be completely myself for the first time in my entire life (I was 25 at the time) and came out as transgender. I introduced myself to the world for the first time during morning announcements, proclaiming my name and pronouns. Everyone cheered for me. I knew then that this group of people I was meeting was more than just that, it was a family that I was being accepted into.

    I still consider the many people I know through the Fund to be my family. From people that I met in that first winter through canvassers still putting everything on the line in Fund offices today. I love them all, and it is with them in mind that I proudly assisted in creating this effort. I cannot simply sit by and watch the undying loyalty to the LGBTQ movement of my family be exploited by the Fund. I cannot watch the Fund ignore and strip away the humanity of the most precious and inspiring people I have ever met. I cannot allow them to diminish the light that guides my life.

    Why did you leave?

    So many reasons. But ultimately I realized despite 5,000 one-on-one conversations, being spat on multiple times, two near misses on physical assault, sexual harassment and intimidation by police officers while on the clock, being homeless for the vast majority of my employment, narrowly avoiding a direct attempt on my life while canvassing, and tens of thousands of dollars raised, that any time I questioned the methods of the Fund my “dedication to the greater good” was questioned.

    It also seemed absurd to continue watching the very privileged (white, affluent, cisgender employees) be prioritized as leaders of a movement meant to empower and uplift the marginalized (poc and queer employees).

    What was your overall experience at the Fund for the Public Interest?

    I had some of the most influential conversations of my life while canvassing. I wake up every morning grateful for the tremendous family I now have because of my time at the Fund.

    I also have deep and lasting emotional scars. I find myself angry and bitter more often than proud when I think about what I did for the last two years. Maybe I’m a tad bit too sensitive, but if I’m being honest my heart has been broken. I was one of the very first kids to live an openly queer life in my small Wisconsin town, my family members were all ultra conservative Catholic republicans. One night I was feeling completely alone and terrified. I was 16 years old and ready to die. I googled “gay rights groups” out of desperation for support and found The Human Rights Campaign. When I clicked on the page and saw all the members and work they were doing I felt like maybe life was worth living. I knew mine was going to be harder than most, but that I had someone looking over me. When I found this job I thought I would have a chance to give back to the organization of people who saved my life that night and provide more hope for the kids coming out now, just to experience most of the things laid out in the letter and more. I have never felt like I mattered less, and fully believe that the only reason I haven’t been completely broken is because of the love I share with those who endured this with me.

    I have to move on from this question, because I feel like my stomach is on fire just thinking about it all.

    What impact were you hoping to make? Did you achieve it?

    I changed exactly one man’s mind about marriage equality. Witnessed a lesbian couple get engaged. Was protected from a hostile bigot by a complete stranger (she wrapped me in her arms and yelled him down). Shared tears and hugs with many strangers over our common desire to be free. Got to see a man who just gained political asylum say ” I’m gay” for the first time in public without fear of imprisonment. Danced, laughed, sang, and played with society.

    I think if nothing else, we proved that if you are determined to remain pure and speak your truth society will create a place for that love to thrive.

    As far as genuine political impact? I feel it is impossible to achieve that within the Fund’s current model. No matter how much money you raise.

    What would you change if you had to go back?

    Why waste time wishing you could change the past when you can use it to shape the future?

    Ripples in the pond my friend.

    Love Always,
    Papa Nik

  • Stef

    I worked for the Fund for the Public Interest for three summers and other breaks from school, however, my story doesn’t get interesting until the third summer. I interviewed to direct as a sophomore in college. In my interview I explained that I canvassed to pay for my tuition and expressed concern that a directors salary would not be enough. I was reassured that directors make 30% commission, so I could make up for the difference by performing well. (As I’m typing this I can almost hear scoffs through the computer). I was then told I would be an assistant director in the Chicago HRC office. I was also told I would get a call from the CD there to introduce me to the current directing staff. Shortly after I got a call from the internal director saying they had switched me from HRC to PIRG. I called Boston back, basically asking why I got a call from internal and they explained how they switched my placement and figured telling me wasn’t a priority. I told them I would abide with the terms previously agreed on, or I would not direct and of course, later that day I got a call saying I was back on HRC.

    When I got to Chicago for the summer, I was nervous and excited to start working but unfortunately the excitement quickly faded. With all the added responsibilities, my canvassing suffered and I fell into deficit. Since I wasn’t making this mystical commission, I talked to one of my directors explaining that I was worried I wasn’t going to make enough money to go back to school. For some reason, I was expecting a comforting reaction followed by a three step plan to get my life together, but instead I was asked if I wanted to direct over the winter. This was the first time I realized the fund focused on numbers, not humans. Shortly after that conversation, I was asked if I would be interested in running pride events. Knowing from past years that canvassers made extra commission I immediately agreed. I also told them that I wanted to do it because I needed the commission. After setting up interviews and some paperwork, I was asked if I wanted to canvass. I said yes since I needed the money and literally seconds after I agreed I get a text saying, “Just so you know you wouldn’t be getting paid for it.” Apparently, “it’s a separation thing.” So I worked every day that week after unknowingly offering to volunteer the only time off I have. It wasn’t until the end of the summer, I was standing in front of the Allen Edmond’s on Michigan Ave, I ran into a former director. We talked for a while, I explained to her how stressed I was about not making commission and not being able to pay for school, when she interrupted me with the fun fact that student directors never make commission. I spent almost the entire summer worried about commission that didn’t exist, not to mention I was lied to in my interview.

    Midway through the summer, I came across some personal problems. Unfortunately, working 12+ hours a day, 6 days a week doesn’t allow for such. I got the unsettling news that I had a miscarriage. After going to the doctor, I was warned that my body was under a lot of stress and it would be in my best interest to take a few days off and maybe even seek professional help. I honestly was too scared to ask for time off, but the next day I experienced unbelievable cramps, I was bleeding and occasionally vomiting. I asked to go home early, I explained the situation and was given a 1/4 day off. Since I didn’t know what to expect from the Fund, I figured that was normal… Later that night I found out from my significant other that when he told his directors about our situation they insisted he take a week off to make sure I was okay. During my next evaluation, distraction due to non-work related issues came up as a weakness. Looking back, I was surprisingly unfazed by the fact someone I considered a friend referred to my emotions as a weakness. Nonetheless, after a few weeks of nightmares, guilt and self loathing, I recovered.

    I honestly don’t feel comfortable sharing the last story with my name attached, but I’ll leave you all with this. The fund almost broke me, as I know to be the case with many others. If it wasn’t for the fact I met some of the most wonderful people on the planet this past summer I probably would have dropped out of school. The Fund made me believe I was actually worth $4 an hour. I was absolutely elated to find I make $9 an hour at Petco. The Fund asked me to value numbers over humans, which is ironic coming from supporters of the Human Rights Campaign. Lastly, the Fund asked me to put my work above my needs. I didn’t take care of myself while working there which quickly caught up to me. As I said before, if I wasn’t surrounded by friends who were there to pick up the pieces I wouldn’t be in a good place today. All in all, I’m glad I have the friends I made, I’m glad I have AD on my resume but all the money in the world couldn’t convince me to direct again. Even summarizing my experience proved to be a challenge.

    Another fun fact, recently I found out that I was paid less than someone of equal rank. To explain the scenario, I worked with the fund for three summers, he worked about six months before being promoted (he was not more qualified). He never completed Boston training so was still considered a half director (not making commission) yet he made about $1,500 more than I did per year. While that may not seem like a lot to most, when you’re making half of the state minimum wage it makes a huge difference.

  • Max

    I’ll start from the beginning, the reasons I chose to work for the fund.
    I am from Charlotte, NC and I already had a history of non-profit volunteer work in my home city. I knew of HRC because I worked their ($+70,000) Gala at 5Church Restaurant during the Democratic National Convention during Obama’s Re-election campaign. This is why I was appalled the first time being canvassed by an HRC canvasser. “Were they invited to the Gala?” I thought – I was very naïve…

    I was a first year student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the loop of Chicago, IL, where I lived for my first nine months in the city. I saw these canvassers working on the streets I took to school every day, State St. and Michigan Ave. Many times right in front of the museum I grew to call my second home.

    It was October and already beginning to get cold outside and my curiosity began to peak. There must be something amazing and rewarding about working for this well-endowed organization that places people in questionable working conditions. One day, after the first couple of snowfalls, and an argument with my mother about my expenses, I stopped with a canvasser to ask for a job. This was not the first time I had stopped, I had talked to several before and it was always pleasant. I became fond of their presence – as everyone should.

    I showed up for my “interview” which I was very nervous about (LOL). There were six of us, I think, and we made small talk, “so do you guys remember who stopped you?” I asked. I had assumed that these people had been recruited from the street as I did. Four of them had found the job listing on craigslist and did not know what canvassing was.

    The office was small, dingy, and covered with stickers, flyers, flags, and other campaign-related materials. It was so small that I could hear every single interview and I was last… My nerves went out the window. Maybe two of these people were actually qualified to engage in conversation about general queer topics. I had been bullied, beaten up in parking lots, and fired for being gay (in NC). I was not well read, but the validity of my life experience was enough for me to feel confident. Not at all the case though, the only thing that I needed for this job was the ability to charm people into giving me money when I couldn’t get by with just passion and strong beliefs. No other skills were needed for this job; but maybe the First-year-at-art-school tendency to self-loath helped in my case. With that being said, 99% of people cannot do this job. That is why being a canvasser is empowering – we are eager, relentless, unstoppable. These streets are OUR streets – talk to us, you might learn something.

    I showed up for my first day dressed nicely, and prepared with the memorized dialogue (“rap”). There were two other first-day (obs) canvassers: One who knew the rap intimidating well and one who hadn’t a clue what they were talking about. I was shocked that all of us were sent out. I remember the directors told me to shoot for $180 but if I came back with nothing it would be fine since it was my first day… I didn’t realize quota actually mattered until I fell behind it during my second month… First day, I raised $375 and my Field Manager (FM) said to me “ congrats, you made staff!” I was very confused. I thought that I was already hired – what they did not tell me was that if I went three days without reaching the standard of $200, I would not be invited back at all. I was pissed off, yes, but just glad to have made it on staff.

    So I began working three days a week (24-30 hours) while enrolled as a full time student at SAIC and this was – and hopefully will be – the busiest I have ever been in my life. What I didn’t know was that the Fund is a machine that will do what ever it takes to make it your top priority. I was living two completely separate lives and felt a strong divide in my personality. There was the Max that came to Chicago for art, and the Max that suddenly became an LGBT activist. Art students only talk about art, other students, professors, and shows. Canvassers only talk about canvassing. I was having a very hard time keeping up with both conversations. It tore me apart, honestly.

    I survived through some of the harshest workplace conditions you could ever imagine. “Wind chill at -30?? Go get me $200!” – that is how much the Fund cared about us, not one bit… One day in the middle of a nasty record-breaking vortex, a good friend of mine (you know who you are) and I were the only canvassers who came into the office. We were in severe thunder-snow with temperatures in the single digits, and we couldn’t even see the miserable faces that we were desperately shouting at, just to stop and talk. We called the office explaining that it was just a waste of the Fund’s payroll to have us out there, but our Canvass Director told us to suck it up. We got back to the office that afternoon; beat down and with minimal contributions, and zero sympathy… That day, an HRC Partner saw us on the street and called HRC headquarters in DC to complain about how they were treating us out there. The message trickled down and came back to our office. We were then scolded for “complaining to the public, and making HRC look bad.”

    I am holding back so many feelings right now… writing this is not easy.

    Of all of the times that I was slapped in the face by the Fund after putting so much in, one time I remember especially bitterly was my first week of the summer season when I had gotten out of school. My director (same one) refused to give me a break and had me taking out new people everyday even after I had specifically asked not to train because I was extremely exhausted. We actually had a huge fight in my bedroom during a party about this… they brought it up, in my apartment, at my party. Bye. Anyway, one day early in the season – I forget which holiday it was – but it was an optional day so I came in with the promise of getting paid time and a half. I trained two people that day who had come in as full-time staff, but because I came into the summer season directly after the winter, when I was working part time, I would not achieve “full-time status” until I had been doing it for two months straight. The people I trained that morning got paid 150% what I was making…. Yep. *Holding baaaaccckkkk* and by the way – “full-time” did not mean 40 hours. It meant 5 days a week, and around 10-12 hours per day as an FM. Of my year there, only ONE paycheck I received had my “vet” (raised) pay on it. Only ONE pay period was I paid what I had rightfully deserved.

    I believe the previous paragraph is pretty telling about the issue of forced overtime – but I had an exceptionally messed up experience with my summer Canvass Director. After working four days (tue-thur) out of the office, I was asked to work at a pride event on Saturday, where the standards are much higher, and the day is much longer. I raised $1600 – an amount that many directors and higher-ups couldn’t boast about for themselves. Naturally, I was asked to work the next day of this pride, on Sunday. So I did it again and raised about $800. This was my 6th day at work this week and in the last two days I had raised $2,400. You would think that they would give me a day off to prepare me for the next week – when I was to lead a group out of the state, and had worked about 70 hours in one week. Instead, they forced me (Fund-bot style) to work on the next regular canvass day. They then sent me to Wisconsin directly after that workday was over. I did not even get to have a proper dinner; just straight to Madison, WI, with a mechanical “Good luck!” It was also my brother’s birthday on that day. Don’t ever let a machine organization like the Fund make you forget stuff like that!

    When we arrived in Madison late that night, we were taken from a bar to a director’s apartment that worked on another campaign. The 5 of us from HRC-Chi were to share a room about 12’ by 12’… with one pullout couch that we took turns on… This is where we would sleep after a 12-14 hour day in a city completely unfamiliar to us for 5 days straight. One bathroom shared by a total of 8 people.

    In closing, I would like to say that I love canvassing. Canvassing is a GOOD thing, and a POWERFUL tool – don’t forget that either! I would also like to state something on the record for those of you that I spoke about and other directors in general: I love you guys, and I know that you are good people working a job that naturally drives you crazy. These directors are the most passionate people on the planet and they all deserve the world after their time with the Fund. If you can direct, you can do anything. Because of the people I worked with, I still look back on my time with the Fund fondly. To all of the canvassers out there who may be reading this: There are other ways to get involved, stay in school, demand reasonable treatment, don’t forget what reasonable treatment feels like, and continue fighting the good fight, even if you chose to do so with the Fund. I wish you all the best, but I wish for the Fund something else. If you give to organizations under the Fund Umbrella: Switch your giving to National People’s Action or Green Peace, or even to a local organization like ArtReach at Lillstreet in Chicago.

    Take back OUR STREETS!

    Rise above: F*ck the Fund!

    Cheers,
    Max

  • Rex Wilde

    ALL OF THIS IS SO IMPORTANT!!! I’m not sure I have the energy to explain all of the ways in which the Fund has been hurtful to me as a person and as a queer person. I really hope this all goes somewhere and HRC listens!

  • Scott

    I worked with the Fund for over three summers. offices in chicago, madison, milwaukee, berkeley, and seattle. Loved every minute of it. Pay wasn’t great, but I fought for things close to my heart. Excellent opportunity for any young activist/future politician, highly recommended.

  • Lauren

    I worked at The Fund the summer of 2012 in NYC. I scraped by making my goal (I was not a great canvasser because if someone prompted me in the street for my credit card info I would laugh at them so I was never pushy. I thought it was enough to be out in the world educating people). Anyways the director was arranging a trip to Ithaca NY, I’m from there and offered to take a group up there to stay at my parents house. They promised to reimburse me for gas and help accommodate everyone that traveled up there. I drove a group of 5 upstate to stay for 4 days. Ithaca is a 45 minute drive from my parents. I recorded all the mileage and collected receipts for gas and turned everything in to the director when we got back. Never was reimbursed. Don’t even think I was sent my last paycheck.

    The Fund does treat people horribly and takes advantage of young people that are hopeful to make a difference in the world (I mean that in the worst way possible)

  • Baby

    I give mad props to everyone who has ever spent even three days in this office. We all know how screwed up the Fund is, but I didn’t know it was THIS bad. Whoever is in charge of this page, thank you for shedding light on this organization, because HRC really does need to see this!

  • Jeremy

    My time at the fund was one of the most rewarding and challenging chapters of my life. During my time there I met, worked with, and became friends with some of the best people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. People who worked hard. People who worked with a fire and a passion. People who cared deeply about what we were doing. And time and time again I watched the fund betray the loyalty and trust of both myself and my friends.

    My own friction with the fund came to a head over a false accusation made on the street. While I was fundraising there was apparently a miscommunication about how much someone was signing up for. How this happened I do not know because I found out about this long after I had forgotten the interaction. The thing is it doesn’t matter how or if it happened because either way you look at it the Fund failed it’s duties, as I am about to explain.

    When my boss called me up she was in a very empathetic and emotional state. She told me that the Fund was suspending me because I had been accused of changing the amount of money someone had written in for a donation. I told her that I obviously would never do it and that it was okay because we would get to the bottom of it. I waited patiently without work until I finally received one of the most horribly obtuse phone calls I have ever had the displeasure of taking. The man on the other line told me what I had been accused of and fished for some sort of proof. The gist of the call can be garnered from the exchange I had when I said “I didn’t do it. That’s all I can tell you. I’m not sure what else I can do or say, it’s been a long time since the interaction and I don’t remember it but I would NEVER do that.” He responded dryly “Is that all you have?”

    He told me they would get back to me. I asked multiple times a week about what the next step was, waiting for some sort of meeting to be set up where we could all discuss the issue face to face. Each week I was given the impression that it would be just one more week. A month went by. A month in expensive Chicago without work after working a $10 job is no easy feat. Finally I got word back. In an oddly anticlimactic move they said just said ‘Sure, come back to work’.

    !!!!!!!!!!

    I was ecstatic to be back at work but there was no discussion. It never came. I got the distinct impression that they had tried to sweat me out. That the higher ups hoped I’d just quit and they would be rid of me. And now I am left with the question, what if I had done it? They should have come down on me to protect the integrity of HRC. They showed a lack of resolve in their mission as well as a complete disregard for their employees. They waded into a luke warm pool of indecision and hoped that the problems would go away. Well this website is evidence of the consequence of that attitude.

    My story is just one of many. And as irritating as it was to me, what I saw them do to my friends was far worse. They built a treadmill out of hire and fire. They lured in young idealists with promises and tossed them out like trash with no warning as soon as the numbers didn’t look good. Most of my job as Field Manager was consoling the wounded. The people that were spit on in the streets by bigots came back to the office to be spit on by their employer, yet their employer did not even have the courtesy to do it to their face. The close ties we built under that pressure served as the shackles that bound us to the fund. The fund not only knew this about it’s model it actively abused it. Rather than passing out raises or not firing people they had a weekly pizza night so we would all be friends. Of course they made the underpaid and overworked directors PAY for said pizza night until they could be reimbursed.

    P.S. HRC you should also know that while fundraising for your organization I had multiple people stop and cite very specifically that the reason they would not donate was because they knew that I worked for the Fund. Rid yourselves of this terrible brand before it drags you down as well. Everyone in that office cared about your organization and the work it was doing. The fund was something we tolerated.

  • Anonymous

    Alright here we go… And this is going to be my “short” version. I started with the Fund as a canvasser. I was referred through a friend who had spoken to a canvasser and I was unemployed at the time so thought, “why not?”. I fell in love with the job almost immediately. And by the job, I mean the campaign and the crazy, loveable people in the office around me. For the first time I truly felt like I fit in and knew that I was about to embark on a journey that would provide long lasting friendships. As someone who had not yet “come out” I found myself surrounded by such an incredible support system that I still to this day can not really believe. After all, I barely knew these people, but that didn’t matter. We were all in it together.

    Due to my passion for the campaign and the love of my colleagues, I completely dived into a fund-oriented persona (or became “fundy” as many of us would phrase it). This was both a blessing and a curse. Before starting this job I was looking to start my career in human rights activism and I will say it until the day I die that this job taught me so many valuable skills. I put in so much time and work to making sure we had a successful office, and I don’t regret it. This attitude allowed me to quickly rise through the ranks until I reached the level of Canvass Director. That first season that I was a CD I loved it. Yes, I put in crazy ridiculous hours (about 15 hour days, 6 days a week) but it didn’t matter because I felt like I was truly making a difference. The staff that I hired and trained (and unfortunately fired way too often… I won’t get started on that now…) inspired me. They were the reason why I put my heart and soul into the job. Going to work every day to experience the joy and passion they had for the campaign… Well let’s just say I’m getting choked up thinking about it. Thank you guys, all of you. You gave me the happiest year of my life. Seriously.

    But I also want to apologize to you. I became so engulfed in everything the Fund told me. Looking back it’s almost like I didn’t have a mind of my own. I hope that enough of my personality shone through to provide enough compassion and understanding for my staff, but I know it wasn’t always enough. Many of you have told me that I’ve changed your life, and that means so much to me. But for many of you I know I have failed you. Instead of intently listening to your woes, I shrugged it off because I had a deadline, or was stressed out by the enormous workload constantly in the back of my mind (and detailed on my many to do lists around the office). I was consistently told that the Fund was impressed by me, and at the time believed this was something unique. I thought I stood out from the crowd of hundreds of directors around the country, but now I just realize this was manipulation to get me to work harder without bitching about the crap pay. I was suckered in.

    Despite keeping this post anonymous, I’m sure many of you can figure out who I am. I do believe the Fund works on amazing campaigns and there are so many wonderful, caring individuals currently employed by them, but the policies they have do not reflect the type of change we are trying to make in this world. As much as I do not want to disrespect the people I have come to love within this organization, I can no longer stand with you.

    Stay tuned. I have more to say.

  • Krista

    I would love to sign a petition or do something besides “grabbing the popcorn.” We’re activists. We have power and we want to do something with that power but we need direction. How can we use this information to bring about positive change?

    • wearehrccanvass Post author

      There’s a petition link at the end of the letter! And in response to your question, “How can we use this information to bring about positive change?” We’re committed to that, and we’re all ears! We encourage folks with ideas to send them to wearehrc.canvass@gmail.com.

  • Margo

    It all started on an air plane. It was the summer after my freshmen year of college. In that year I had both realized I was a lesbian and thrown myself head first into the Maine marriage equality campaign. I was bright eyed and bushy tailed and full of optimism. I thought I could change the world. The Fund beat that out of me real quick. I saw the ad on Craig’s List while sitting on the tarmac waiting for my plane to take off. My parents had just moved to Chicago and I was spending the summer there. It was an exciting adventure and if I could get to spend that time fighting for something I truly believed was right, there really wasn’t any better summer I could think of. To this day, I cannot decide if taking that job was the best or the worst decision of my life.
    During my tenure with the Fund, I had the privilege of working with some of the most amazing, caring, optimistic, genuinely *good* people that I have ever had the good fortune of meeting. The office was a family. We took care of each other. We still do. We were united around a common purpose and were willing to fight every day to make equality a reality. That meant the world to me. During my time as a canvasser, I have had interactions with some of the most fascinating people I have ever met who have changed the way that I look at the world forever. I am eternally grateful for that.
    Everything was going okay for the first few weeks. Sure the quota stressed me out more than the prospect of a summer’s worth of never-ending finals weeks. Sure people were often rude and often said hurtful things. But I was making a difference in people’s lives. I had quickly realized that I couldn’t change the world, but I could change the world for just one person. And if enough of us did that, things would get better. Things would change. Secure in this knowledge, I forged ahead despite my friends’ and family’s displeasure. They could already see what the stress was doing to me. I was proud of the work I was doing. I still am.
    Then it happened. Three weeks in, I got minorly sexually assaulted. I was damn lucky that my fm and one of the cds who were on site that day knew what they were doing because they handled it beautifully. However things went downhill real fast. I was assured that the fact that I was under quota for the day would be ignored and it would not count towards my weekly quota. The Fund promptly ignored that. I was assured after that that I would be compensated for the money I lost by being under quota. This, of course, did not happen. But the Fund’s monumental failure to respond to this incident went much deeper than that.
    As you might imagine, I was deeply shaken by this incident. I wasn’t sleeping well. I was scared all the time. My heart would start to pound and my hands would start to shake when I was in the middle of large crowds. One day when I tried to explain to my fm why I was underperforming, his response was to reiterate what he had been trained to say: It was a mindset problem. It was my fault. I was told that if I didn’t look vulnerable all the time, I would not have been hurt. People wouldn’t harass me. I would meet quota if I just stopped looking like so much of a target. Everything would be fine if I just stopped being scared. You never heard me complain again. I stuck it out the rest of the summer until I went back to school. I spent every single day feeling scared and alone, but too afraid of how the Fund would react if I said anything. So I didn’t. And I believed him, that’s the thing… For a long time, I was furious at him for this. But then I realized something: He was *never* trained to deal with this kind of thing. My office wasn’t the problem. The Fund never gave their managers the tools or the training to handle this. The Fund does not train their staff to deal with the types of incidents that will occur when you put people in the uniquely vulnerable positions that canvassers are put in every single damn day. The Fund does not even really have a concept of just how vulnerable their canvassers are. Part of me wonders if they do and they just don’t care.
    A big part of that mindset I believe comes from their revolving door policy. I’ve seen committed and powerful canvassers let go at the drop of a hat the second the numbers start to look bad. People were in and out of that office so fast that I never learned half the names of the people who came through our doors. On my first week, we saw dozens of new people. By the end of the summer, there were only two of us left. The Fund does not see its canvassers as people. We are little fundraising machines and as soon as our overworked gears start to wear down, instead of oiling them, we are thrown out the door.
    The Fund crushed me. When I started this job, I had so much hope. I really did think we could make a difference. After my experience with this organization, I spend so much time bitter and angry. I have spent so much time feeling beaten down and irrevocably alone. But this isn’t just about me. My story is one of hundreds of people taken advantage of by this organization. This is what the Fund does to people: It takes idealistic, hopeful, passionate young people who are willing to fight their hardest (often working 10+ hours a day, 6 days a week) to make real and lasting change, it breaks them down, and tosses them aside knowing that they can con a dozen more people into the office to fill their places. This is NO WAY to run an organization. This NO WAY not treat employees. This is certainly no way to make a difference.

  • KJ

    I canvassed for the Fund for several summers in high school and college, and personally loved it. I felt like I was doing something that mattered, and was paid for it, which felt great. When I saw how the Directors were treated, though, I knew something was wrong — it just didn’t pay to be promoted. Some of the best organizers, fundraisers and team leaders refused to become Directors because it required a huge pay cut and more hours. I agree that’s a huge problem, and you do a great job outlining some of the terrible practices by the Fund. But you need to work on your “solutions” section. So you just want HRC to cancel it’s contract with the Fund? Why not ask for them to put pressure on the Fund to adopt a list of policy changes (and suggest those changes)? As it is, my gut reaction is to think “these people already quit; why do they want everyone else laid off?” A much less aggressive approach that respects those who are committed to canvassing and want to continue working would be to suggest policy changes and urge HRC to pressure the Fund to make significant workplace changes.

    • wearehrccanvass Post author

      KJ, we completely agree with you – the Fund does need to make significant workplace changes and we are committed to that. However, we also believe that the pressure to change should come from within the network. While we work to build awareness around the issue, we are also building the support system necessary to help Fund employees negotiate effectively with their employers. If you’d like to help out, please send us a message! wearehrc.canvass@gmail.com

      • KJ

        Absolutely, I just meant that maybe you should take another look at the solutions section — I’m not sure it comes across the way you just described it above. To me it sounds like “end the contract” not pressure to change it.

        • Anonymous

          I believe wholeheartedly that they should end their contract with FFPI. There are similar instances of organizational conflicts between the Fund & other orgs in the past, and those organizations took the necessary step back from the Fund. For example, the organization that I currently work for cut their ties to the fund approximately ten years ago. They started their own canvassing operation, and have been able to effectively maintain it to this day. The end result is happy employees, like me, who are paid well, have quality health insurance, and actually work for the organization that they represent. Our training is better, we are kept abreast of the latest campaign updates, & are treated with dignity & respect for all that we do. Furthermore, since we are the face of the organization to the public, there is an almost constant dialogue between the canvasser and campaign staff, which is crucial to maintain an idea of where the general public stands.
          HRC has the funds and national reach to start such a program within. That is the action that I, & many others, are hoping they will take.

  • Jay

    I have worked for many campaigns in the almost 5 years I spent canvassing, and I have never been a part of an office that had so much love for each other, when you’re in that office you truly are family. Unfortunately that’s not always enough; canvassing is hard, demanding, emotionally taxing work, and there is not a single canvassing group in this city that pays as little as The Fund. It would be considered ridiculous at most canvassing organizations to keep a shift manager at the same wage they were when they started nor would it occur to them to cut someones pay if they didnt make quota. On top of the feelings of anxiety a canvasser feels after a week of not making quota they also have to worry about whether or not they’ll be able to afford rent this month. The complete lack of training on how to deal with harrassment and what to do if you’re faced with a dangerous situation are appalling. This is a controversial campaign, people WILL get hostile, and when they do an 18 year old trans kid from Mississippi who answered a craigslist ad the day they moved to Chicago may not have the life skills required to handle themselves when facing that (highly likely) situation. And whenever I’ve heard a complaint made about sexual harassment on the street the only advice given is to brush it off and get out there again tomorrow “after all, remember what we’re fighting for”. That last statement seems to be the rationale for all The Fund’s bullshit, they take advantage of people’s deeply held beliefs to exploit them. It’s time to give canvassing back to the canvassers.

  • Dayna

    I worked for the Fund from March of 2012, until January of 2014. I had been working in retail/service management for well over a decade, and was more than ready for a change. More than that, I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to do something I was passionate about, fight for a cause I truly believe in, that was near to my heart. No cause is more true to that than the work of HRC: gay rights and equality for all. The craigslist ad I answered certainly promised the perfect combination of fight, and monetary reward. I have never been motivated by money, but I needed to pay my rent and eat. I was excited when I got hired. I was even more excited when I made my quota within the three day window. Over time, I learned a lot about how the system really worked. I figured out quickly how true it was that I worked for the Fund, and not for HRC.

    I worked with an amazing group of people. Hard working, passionate, intelligent, true activists. We were there for the right reasons, doing something we cared about. These people will be my friends for life. It is truly unfortunate that the Fund has no respect for this kind of passion and humanity. To the Fund we were all just resources. We were expendable, we could be traded off to whatever campaign they needed, used for however may hours they wanted, and sent where ever they felt we were needed. The fact that we were there because we were activists fighting for the HRC, that this cause was where our hearts lay, was irrelevant. If we were good canvassers it meant we made money, and we should be able to make money anywhere, for any cause, simply using a model the Fund provided. That logic alone is not true. I knew I wouldn’t be as good a canvasser for a cause that I wasn’t as passionate about. I am not a salesman, I am an activist. I, and my wonderful group of coworkers, were people fighting for a personal cause. This method, this system, left me feeling defeated, deflated, uninspired, angry and unmotivated to do what I had been so passionate about doing. I lasted for nearly two years because I believed in HRC and the ultimate goal, even as I started to hate the Fund and what it stood for. I am not a resource. I know that my skills as a canvasser were because I loved talking to the public about the issues. This should have been enough for the Fund. We all should have been respected for the hard work and passion we put in. For the thousands of people we got involved on whatever level they could be involved in. Simply put, we were not.

    I didn’t always make a lot of money. But, I spoke to a lot of people, I got a lot of people involved. I went to Colorado and worked 12+ hour days, I canvassed in Massachusetts for a week, and the Jersey Shore. I went on two Fund retreats to the Delaware water gap. I canvassed at the DNC in Charlotte as part of a small group of canvassers, something I was so honored to do. I was a trainer and a field manager. I was involved and invested. I made a difference, I saw the spark in peoples eyes, I had thousands of conversations and got other people motivated to fight for HRC and equal rights. If the cause was what motivated the Fund, then I would have gotten the respect I earned for the work I did. But, money was the motivation,and I was unable to be a mindless automaton and come home with a ton of money everyday. I made my quota, often exceeded it, but I wasn’t always a top earner. I had a lot of other skills, a lot of other value. Over time, as it got harder to muster up energy in unacceptable conditions, my fundraising suffered. So, even after two years there, I was basically pushed out the door. Because the Fund is based on a quota system. Nothing else matters. Learn the rap and make a lot of money.

    I trained many, many people at the Fund. Over the two summers I worked I trained a new recruit nearly every day. Often, they had serious potential, but were fired in three days. This isn’t because they did anything wrong. It is because they were given three days to make quota. End of story. Three days to memorize a rap and list of responses, and master an often brand new skill. Three days to prove your worth. It didn’t matter what experience you brought to the table. It didn’t matter how hard you worked, how much passion you had, or how much you were improving. More than once I saw proof that just an additional day or two, was enough to get comfortable enough and make quota. But, they weren’t really allowed that. As a result, turnover was incredible and so many talented, worthwhile, passionate, strong canvassers, never got to show what they could do for HRC. It really is a shame. As a trainer is was also frustrating. It does not work. The system is set up so one only makes money, if they raise money. So, does understanding the value of a human being, and actually taking time to judge case by case, actually cost so much to the Fund that they would rather lose valuable talent than adjust a system that simply does not work? I could never respect or even fully understand that logic.

    I know that people do not fully grasp what canvassers do every day. The general public, even in an open minded place like NYC, generally don’t like us. We are the annoying people with clip boards and binders that are trying to take time from your busy day. As we gained experience, we also built shells, and our own methods, to combat the things we had to deal with everyday. It is not, by any means, an easy job. Even the best, most skilled, canvassers, break sometimes. We all have a line, a limit, and I am sure all of us have seen it crossed at least a couple of times. A new recruit, that has never put themselves on the line before, is expected to learn all the skills, and raise money, even as they are learning to deal with this, well, crap, on the street everyday. Most people are not born with that kind of shell. It is often not lack of skill in fundraising, but simply shell shock, that makes raising quota in three days incredibly hard. Personally, I have been called every name in the book, I have been driven to tears, I have felt anger I didn’t know I had in me, just from standing on the street, day after day, canvassing. Keep in mind, canvassing for HRC only adds another layer for us all. Like I said, we were passionate about the cause, the organization. This issue, even in NYC, is controversial and intense. It is emotional. We weren’t canvassing for clean water and air, we were canvassing for gay rights. I could talk for days on this, but, that isn’t really my point. My point is, the Fund is an organization mostly focused on PIRG and the environment. They are not equipped to understand, to truly understand, why canvassing for HRC is so different. Most of us who work for HRC, as I said, take this cause personally. And, for me specifically as an out lesbian, this was considerably more than a job. Unlike most jobs, unlike it would have been if I worked for environmental issues, I never had the option of leaving my work at the office. I never got to walk away after a long day and decompress, I had to take it home with me. My entire life was about announcing who and what I am to the world, to people on the street, all day, every day. The Fund never got that. I saw proof of the that lack of understanding in those that were “fundy”. In the people and policies that enforced the things that do not work. I saw it in the way I was spoken to, the lack of respect, the hours and measly pay.

    After two long years, I left because I wasn’t being respected. Because, the passion I had for what were were doing, was overshadowed by the way we were all treated, and the way were were expected to do this job. I believe in HRC, I always will. This organization has done powerful things, and made strong strides in the fight for equality. I do not believe in the Fund. HRC needs to be partnered with an organization that understands the issues, that treats people with respect. People from HRC love what canvassers do out there. Let true canvassers teach them how to do it themselves. Canvassers, ideally, should be working for HRC. Not working for some organization that really doesn’t grasp, or care about, what HRC is. Canvassing for HRC can be done in a better way, if they let the Fund go, and find a group truly focused on HRC’s mission.

    I have no regrets about canvassing. No regrets about leaving the field I was in and trying something terrifying and new. I learned so many skills, and made so many friends. At the end of the day, I loved what I did and what I had accomplished. I just had to ignore that the name on my paycheck said Fund for the public interest. I said I worked for HRC, because I no longer respected the organization that was actually paying me. That is not how it should be. That job is hard enough, the Fund makes it harder. Struggling to find passion for the most important issue in my life…that’s just unacceptable.

  • MDH

    I only worked for the Fund briefly, during the coldest part of the winter. Though I was committed to the cause and have always considered myself to be good with people and even a good salesman, I was terminated pretty quickly for not meeting my quota, and honestly felt pretty miserable about it for the past two years. My directors seemed miserable about it, too, and that resonated with me–even more so after reading this.

  • Michael M. Soldati

    I worked for the Fund on Obama’s 2012 campaign as a Canvassing Director. I hooked up with them through Grassroots Inc. in Austin, during which I was made to street fundraise for Planned Parenthood, a worthy endeavor, but not the job I applied to- I applied to go door-to-door getting out the vote for the election. My friend and I were strung along for 3 weeks of this, constantly being told we would be leaving for Denver for training in just a few days. Finally we arrive in Denver, have a great week of training, at the end of which we are asked in what cities and in what states we know people who could provide housing as the Fund wasn’t going to be able to provide housing themselves. I list off dozens of cities across the country where I have friends and family. No one was told where they’d be going, until the afternoon of the very last day when myself and one other woman were told we’d be going to Miami, where we both knew absolutely ZERO people. We flew out of Denver within 2 hours of hearing this. Arrived after midnight, and fortunately someone at the fund made some last minute calls for the two of us to crash on someone’s living room floor for the night. The next day the rest of the Miami and Ft. Lauderdale operation arrives. Five of us end up living in one of the other directors tiny two bedroom apartment, they close Miami office so we all move to Ft. Lauderdale, which they don’t have an office so we work out of a Dunkin Donuts. Granted it was the nicest Dunkin Donuts in the world. Anything for progress right? Over the course of the next 6 weeks a number of frustrations arise with the Fund and how it operates. 1. I was pulled over by police while canvassing and asked to leave the neighborhood, I complied, not wanting to get arrested, my boss on the other hand tried to goad me into continuing. Did I have the legal right to canvass? I’m pretty sure, but I still don’t want to get arrested, yeah this election is important but not so much I’m ready to put my life and liberty on the line here. 2. I get attacked by a dog, a big dog, my boss tells me to continue canvassing. 3. I get a UTI or some other kind of infection, I’m in incredible pain and can’t focus, and my boss refuses to drive me to the hospital or to allow anyone else to do so, this in the morning before even canvassers have arrived, I make the 3 hour bus ride/walk myself, get out a few hours later to a monsoon and my boss refuses to pick me up even though she isn’t doing anything and all the canvassers are on turf. The fund did not cover these health costs. I made some of my best friends at the fund, but we really only became so close because of the hell that we were put through on a daily basis, 16 hour days, one day off a week, if we were lucky, mismanaged, disorganized and no sympathy for people or basic human needs despite the fact we were supposedly fighting for these same rights and benefits. Director Training in Denver was good but the training given to canvassers is of incredibly poor quality, the directors are always rushed with a million things so they just throw training together and bullshit. If there is anything the fund taught me is how to bullshit people, and how to not give a fuck about anything, because that’s exactly what the Fund is about.

  • Frank T.

    I was only with “The Fund” for about 4 months so I don’t have much of a story but I will say this much:

    1. The longer I worked there the darker it got because you get to understand just how distressed the directors are just from working there. They didn’t need to say anything: just from working with them you can tell that they are stressed out and over-worked. Keep in mind I’m also saying this about some of the most positive and caring people I’ve have ever had the pleasure of knowing. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting 6 different directors and only the nicest, kindest, most optimistic people can even attempt to do this job.

    2. I working during the polar vortex of 2013-2014 and I personally would get called out by the public often about how they couldn’t support the HRC because of how we were being treated as employees.

    3. I also had the great pleasure of canvassing for another group that does not contract out a group to canvass on their behalf. Not only were we treated better in every way you could imagine, but being an employee for the group you’re fundraising for gives you so much for purpose. You’re actually an activist and not a sales robot. We had the opportunity to actually organize support from the public that want to contribute their time to the cause and not have to turn them away or point them to a website.

      • Frank

        It was a blast regardless 🙂 I feel like I also should have mentioned that while The Fund has it’s obvious downfalls, some of which I’ve mentioned, I’ve met some of the greatest people and I wouldn’t ever trade this experience for anything in the world. Hell, I even came back after being fired once before!

  • Former Director

    Re: A Model of Socio-Economic Elitism

    During the 2012 summer canvass, I was working as a director in the north-east region. One weekend the Manhattan office hosted a regional meeting/training. The weekend training was intended to focus on improving regional recruitment goals.

    One key element of the training was learning to prioritize candidates during a large group interview. In true Fund fashion, we all participated in a role-play. The regional director (who was running the training) lined all the office directors up in an order based upon where we attended college. For example, the first girl in line was a graduate from Yale. I graduated from a state school and so I found myself towards the middle of the line. The directors at the end of the line either attended community college of did not have a degree.

    After we were lined up (using our real life situations), we were told who among us were worthy of prioritizing. During the role-play, the Yale graduate was given the role of “the interview who arrived late”. We were all told that we should still prioritize this late candidate over everyone else because she went to the best school. The directors who attended community college or that were non-graduates were all given an application to fill out and then were ignored during the rest of the role-play. I recall one of the girls (who hadn’t attended college) saying that the training made her feel, “totally worthless”.

    Regardless of the motive behind this training tactic, this does not represent equality in the workplace. This tactic encourages segregation and discrimination, which conflicts with the ideals of the Human Rights Campaign. This is a basic recruitment skill that is being taught and utilized in all Fund operated offices.

    Additionally, beyond the obvious offenses of this training exercise, I can’t help but consider a major underlying concern of this training. During my time as a director, I have met several amazing canvassers whom identify as LGBTQ and didn’t graduate from high school, let alone college. I learned that they dropped out of school due to feeling judged, unsafe, bullied, and/or unsupported. These canvassers were amazing and passionate towards the cause. Many of them were leaders in the office. However, based on the training tactics of “The Fund”, I wasn’t even supposed to prioritize them during an interview. Something about this situation is fundamentally wrong. These recruitment tactics may be hurting the very people the Human Rights Campaign defends.

  • Erin

    This is something that I have wanted to express for so long. It seems that there are a lot of disgruntles going on. A lot of people are angry. Many feel deprived. Many feel manipulated. There is a reason for that.

    I, like most, will start from the beginning to follow to a sad fruition.

    My initial interview was a joke. I applied to work for IL PIRG. I went in for my interview. It was the most obnoxious training I had ever been through. I didn’t make staff. No shit. I didn’t get trained. Then, this beautiful human being poked her head out of her director door after I got fired and asked if I wanted to work for gay rights. I mean, I have two very close friends that are near and dear to me. My theater beauties as well. So, why not?

    I delved into the world of LGBTQIAP equality. I was pretty ignorant at that point as far as the issues. No worries! The Chicago HRC office HAS THE MOST WELCOMING, WONDERFUL, TALENTED, KNOWLEDGEABLE INDIVIDUALS I HAVE HAD THE PLEASURE TO MEET IN MY LIFE. These individuals have helped me achieve so much. Most of these people have helped me through hell and back. Work related and personal.

    On that note, what I’m about to say might make some of you dislike me. Remember, hate is a strong word.

    My first dislike with the Fund was when I attended my first training in Boston. It was basically an orgy for directors to get out their frustrations while trying to figure out why they were there. Productive. There is an enormous amount of money that gets spent to send us to this training every year. “Get em laid, get em paid” is a mantra that I’ve heard from multiple people about FFPI director trainings.

    Feel like a number or piece of meat yet? Just wait.

    My first summer was actually pretty glorious. Three of the directors helped me through the process of becoming a director, and much more. It was when I returned from the orgy in August that I discovered that I was no longer an activist, but someone that was driven to treat and train people as “bodies.” What does that mean?! Your guess is as good as mine. However, I continued on the orgy path. I know, pathetic. I thought it would look good on my resume. Jokes aside, I did feel like I was helping my family and friends in the best possible way as an individual.

    (Right now, Harlet is so mad at me that I won’t let her sit on my laptop)

    Now for the hard part. Where to begin? The first thing as a director-in-training that pained me the most was when I witnessed sexual assault on the street. I wasn’t a director yet, but I knew that what one of the canvassers went through was something that was irreplaceable. I wasn’t trained to help someone in that situation, I just did what I could do. I told them to tell me where they went and what they looked like. “It’s that guy down the street with the purple backpack.” I TORE THAT LOW LIFE A BRAND NEW ASSHOLE ALL THEIR OWN. The fact that assault is tossed aside like something that happens every day is one of the most disgusting things I have ever witnessed with the Fund. Another thing is pay related. About 3 months before I got fired (I’ll come back to this), I was told that people on their first day were not going to be receiving pay for training. That’s 3 1/2 hours of unpaid work. Pretty sure that’s illegal. If that’s the case though, then when directors go to Denver or Boston for training, then we shouldn’t get paid either. Right? Regardless, it’s absurd. You pay to train people in order for them to do the task at hand properly. Obviously, professionalism and morals are not a strong stance with the Fund.

    So, I got fired. I worked with the organization for 2 years and 2 months. Most directors stick around for 3 months at most. I’m surprised I stayed as long as I did. A couple months before my termination, directors were placed on a new standard (did not sign for any of it, that was my bad, not that it would matter) that we had to meet an average of $290 once within 3 weeks. The office standard is $195. However, I felt pretty confident in my canvassing abilities to reach that regardless of the 70 hour work week. My last week, I averaged $267. Dropped like a sack of potatoes. Done. I had mixed feelings when I got a fucking PHONE CALL. I felt completely sacked to say the least. In the most embarrassing way. No exit interview, no call from my RD, and definitely won’t receive a recommendation. I won’t be receiving any of these proper outlets because the Fund just doesn’t believe in giving their employees any decency. DAMN GINA WTF?!

    Good lord. I could go on and on. Oh and by the way, if any turd from the Fund feels like we’re ranting…..
    Get your head out of your ass.

    All in all, I am grateful for my experience with the loving, devoted, amazing, passionate, out of the box people I met while working there. These are canvassers, FMs, and directors. The Fund does not know these individuals and never will. Thank goodness. The Fund doesn’t deserve you!

    All my love to the people that actually give a shit.
    Rater gators!

  • Stef

    I know Max and a few others have mentioned this, but I just want to emphasize what a joke vet pay is.
    Really anything to do with pay, ‘refer a friend’ bonus? Director’s commission? Reimbursement?

  • Jessie

    Having worked here for like, a month and a half, a couple years ago, I’d say the fund raising was one of my best experiences ever. I even have a tattoo of the hrc symbol on my right arm at this point. But upon coming back, maybe 2 months later, to ask for a reference, I was dismayed to find that there had been so much turnover, that not one of my old team members was even working there! I remember watching people come and go within a day, sure they couldn’t make their quotas, which is kind of par for the course, but every single one of them had disappeared.

    The crazy ass, rigid standards that even people who have been there for years are held to are unfair at best, torturous at worst, and from what I’m reading, it goes pretty far up. I only made it to field manager, and only lasted a couple weeks at that, but I remember the stress my directors constantly seemed to be under. It needs to change.

    This is ridiculous. This is my breakfast. This is my life.

  • Jessie

    Okay, upon reading the letter a little more deeply, I’d just like to take a second and talk about the “extreme conditions” part. Mostly to point out where the real heroes in this establishment were. My first day of canvassing, I was NOT weather ready. I had a pair of army boots on, that were Vietnam style, unknown to me, and thusly, vented out heat rather than conserving it. Half way through the day,I couldn’t feel my feet up to the ankle, and I was starting to get dizzy. I later, on the train ride home, realized I had one hell of a flu that kept me in bed for the next five days. But the one part of this that kept me from hanging up my hat and resigning, was my CD. She didn’t allow me to get frostbite, or hypothermia, she took me out of the cold, sacrificing her own quota in the process, and stuck there for an hour with me, drinking coffee and talking about the fund while I slowly regained feeling in my feet. I can only hope that she didn’t have as terrible an experience as its looking like happened for all the directors. If you’re reading these comments, thank you so much for helping me through that and several other really tough days, I hope all the best is happening for you.

  • Chas

    I’ll copy over what I signed on the letter: I worked as a canvasser for the Fund in the Winter 2012-13, campaigning for ENDA. I was expected to recruit new canvassers constantly. The Fund is deceptive in its hiring and does not explain how easily and quickly one can be fired for not meeting quota. I was once asked to recruit students for the upcoming summer canvass campaign, asking them to plan and organize their life around a job that is months away without explaining that the job would last about a week on average. Thankfully I got out of that assignment but it showed me a glimpse of what the Fund is really about. And I’ve heard a lot more from my co-workers and now from this letter.

    HRC’s partership with the Fund and implicit support for the Fund’s policies suggest that HRC is comfortable with undermining grassroots activist organizing in order to maximize the flow of political money. These priorities are made clear by the lack of training and support for employees and the emphasis on quotas above all else, including health and safety.

    HRC has a history of internal problems, including the blatant transphobia from previous leadership. Add the Fund’s elitism, racism, and terrible treatment of workers to the list. This hurts the people HRC claims to support. If HRC wishes to move forward as a meaningful supporter of all LGBTQ people, they will ditch the Fund.

    HRC as an organization is no peach but they’ve certainly gotten a lot of my time, money, and energy. In all fairness a lot of the negativity I feel is due to the way the Fund operates. I had personally accepted that the Fund’s problems were an accurate reflection of HRC’s values. I guess we will see if that is the case. I’m glad to see this letter now because this is one kind of challenge we need to keep giving to HRC to do better.

  • Caleb

    Like many other Fund directors, I started my career with the Fund with a ton of enthusiasm. I had just graduated college and was being promised a position that allowed me to really make a difference for causes I was passionate about. As someone who had been quite excited to join the workforce for just this reason, I was the perfect recruit. I was ready and willing to do what it took to get involved and I had very little actual working experience outside of volunteering and working through my college. My understanding of fair treatment as an employee had not been established yet, and the Fund absolutely ran with that. I was hired as a door canvassing director for one of the PIRGs and worked on an environmental campaign for about 2 months after I started. Had I continued to work on this campaign for a more extended period of time, I think I may have found it in myself to quit because I wasn’t as passionate about the issue and I learned very quickly that I was expected to average 12 hour days and work 6 days a week consistently.
    Our office switched campaigns to HRC that fall, and that was when I fell in love with my work. I was incredibly proud every time anyone would ask me what I was doing with my life because I felt like I had reached that point where I was finally doing something that was worthwhile. I am also a very proud member of the LGBT community so I felt empowered to be able to help my own community with a cause I cared about so deeply. Caring that much was certainly wonderful, but having a job that creates a dynamic where rejection of the cause is also a rejection of your own human rights is emotionally wearing in a way that is indescribable. I remember having a canvasser get spit on on her first day working for us and never coming back. I will never blame that perspective, it takes extremely thick skin to put yourself out there continuously to have the vast majority of people just put their hand in your face. That being said, of course, I had absolutely amazing and inspiring conversations with people on the street and I felt on an individual level that I was able to at least influence these people and make a difference in my own way. I also loved having people around me constantly who were equally passionate. With my role as the recruitment director, I had the opportunity and honor to train many wonderful, passionate, intelligent, and engaging activists in the making. It was incredibly disheartening to see that these people that we were investing in and that were invested in the cause would be without a job three days after having been promised a job for the entire summer. If the positions were reversed, I would have been appalled at the promises made to me as a canvasser, the possibility of being unemployed is incredibly downplayed because it isn’t a good recruitment tactic to tell people they may not have a job in less than a week.
    I don’t regret my time at the Fund, but having perspective always makes a huge difference. When I was living the Fund life, I was constantly exhausted and worn out from working 12 hour days as my norm. I have never been more exhausted in my life than when I was working 16 hour days for the election. As exhausted as I was constantly, I honestly believe I would’ve stayed longer if I could have. I was one of the top averaging directors in the countries for HRC and I knew I was good at what I was doing. I love it immensely. Then they closed our office and my only option if I wanted to stay employed was to take a job doing the exact opposite of what I had been doing before. Suddenly, all of the ridiculous expectations were coming to light. I was hired for that specific job simply so I could remain at the fund and it was not the type of work I should be doing. I was miserable doing administrative work, and frankly I was quite bad at it. I went from one of the top in my field to feeling like I was just holding on by a thread. I was absolutely miserable and all of the value I had felt in the job was gone. I got to the point where I wound up quitting unexpectedly and had to leave before my two weeks’ notice was up. I never thought I would feel so desperate to leave a job that it would come to me just cut and running, but they also didn’t try to get me to stay because of my performance in the administrative role. As soon as directing positions re opened in my area that I was qualified for, I got a few phone calls trying to recruit me back.
    While I will never return to the Fund, I value a lot of the time that I spent working there. It taught me that I have a very resilient work ethic and that I can do almost anything, but more importantly it taught me that I am worth something. It taught me that I want to invest in a company that invests back in me and that the feeling I had of being on top of the world and continually positively reinforced left immediately once I wasn’t making money for the organization. I admire and care for all of the canvassers that are still out there, I stand with them and will never pass by a canvasser if I can help it. I hope that the Fund is able to see these criticisms as an effort of people who truly care about these issues. I will continue to do work I am passionate about for the rest of my life, and I hope that we can find more and more ways for young people to get involved and make a difference that also empowers them to want to continue that for a long time. A company that encourages young people to burn out unless they can work 12+ hours a day needs to gain some perspective on what is realistic to ask from people who care. I am grateful to not be working in that kind of environment anymore, and I feel strongly about allowing people who are still there to know they are supported through the work and the causes and that there are people who appreciate the work they do in a real way.

  • Indira

    I worked for Grassroots Campaigns while living in Denver, Colorado for a few months. Although this letter is directed at The Fund, so much of what was written resonated deeply with me. Grassroots shares the recruiting and fundraising ideology of the fund, which propogated extremely high turnover rates that damaged office morale. The most troubling aspect of canvassing office culture discussed in this letter for me, however, is the lack of support and training given on street harassment and traumatic incidents in the field. We were encouraged not to discuss the vitriolic and frightening comments, threats, and behavior that we experienced almost daily on the street. This repression of discussion was only further traumatizing, and made me feel as though I was weak for not simply being able to ¨shake it off.¨ Even after an incident in the field in which our canvassing team had to call the police in order to deal with an angry non-supporter, we had no real follow-up or debrief with the office. It gets tough out there, as any canvasser will tell you. And no matter how resilient someone is, repeated incidents with aggressive non-supporters can be traumatizing. We deserve follow-up and a system of internal support in order to do our jobs effectively and continue our work as passionate advocates for the causes that motivate us.

  • Robin

    I worked for the Fund/PIN for over seven years and held many roles. I was a summer intern, then canvasser, and field manager while in college. After graduating I was a Canvass Director for two to three years and did electoral work in between those years. I then became a Development Associate doing major donor work for one of the state affiliates (still employed by the Fund) for three years. I met incredible people that I remain in touch with and learned valuable skills that I continue to use in my ongoing career in the nonprofit field. The good people I met and the skills I learned don’t excuse the Fund/PIN’s poor treatment of employees.

    As I rose to a midlevel management position I was both subjected to this poor treatment and enforced bad policies on others. There’s no question that I was naïve and complicit, and there was a time that I reflexively defended PIN. That became harder and harder to do over time, and I am now convinced that the network needs to make big changes. Turnover at all levels has led to PIN leadership consisting almost solely of ‘lifers’ who have worked for PIN since college for 10-30+ years and lack experience of other, better ways of operating.

    Offering better workplace conditions is not only the right thing to do, it will ultimately build a stronger and more effective organization that can win more victories for progressive causes. Until they make those changes, I strongly advise folks against being employed by the Fund or using their services as a contracted vendor as HRC does. Many of the reasons I left have already been outlined by others and the letter itself in great detail. I’ll skip those and get straight to experiences that others haven’t already covered.

    1. Firing workers for unionizing. I worked in the Portland office when the Fund’s Telephone Outreach Office successfully unionized. Rather than address what was happening in our workplace in an open and honest way, Fund leadership would fish for information, try to root out ‘sympathizers’ and impugn the motives of those organizing. Multiple people were clearly fired for union organizing, though typically under pretenses such as ‘showing up late’ to stay within legal bounds. Eventually the National Labor Relations Board found them guilty of firing a particular caller for union organizing activity and was forced to provide a year’s back pay to that caller.

    2. Spying on and cataloging social media statements critical of the Fund. Shortly after I left the Fund (on very good terms and after having given extensive notice), I made a comment on Facebook where I said I hoped the Fund would come to a contract agreement with the unionized TOP. The Fund screenshot my comment, and management called my closest co-workers who still worked there, including my now husband, to dig for details and to try to shut me up. I suspect I’ve been blacklisted from alumni events for that comment, and it negatively impacted my husband’s ability to use network references. They were able to use my friendships with PIN staffers and my relationship to silence me – until now.

    3. Using threats of a lawsuit to retain employees. After my first year canvass directing I applied for a job directing canvass offices with GreenPeace and was offered a job that paid $15k more for the same role. When I mentioned to the National Canvass Director that I was considering another job, I was told that I would be in violation of the “Trade Secrets/Non-Compete” agreement I had signed in my first week on staff and potentially subject to a lawsuit. I was afraid and made to feel guilty, and ultimately turned down the job offer to stay with the Fund. Now I recognize that those agreements almost certainly won’t stand up in a court of law, and that good employers don’t need to use threats of a lawsuit to retain employees.

    4. Using threats of a lawsuit to prevent others from recruiting current employees or starting their own canvass offices. I left the Fund to take a job with another nonprofit, and after working there for approximately a year I decided to start an internal (non-contracted) canvass project for that organization. I was determined to run things differently – to pay a living wage, reject the high-turnover model, and treat staff with respect. Since I recruited primarily via my connections, I hired mostly former Fund canvassers who were looking to continue canvassing. Some had been fired or not re-hired by the Fund and some had quit in frustration over the Fund’s policies. My team was successful but small by design and coordinated with the nearly 10 other canvass groups operating in the area. Another year later I had accepted a new job with another nonprofit and was looking to hire a canvass director to take over as I transitioned out. I told a friend and current Fund Director about the job opportunity, and as I later learned he shared that fact with his Regional Director (who I also knew). Shortly after, I received a call from the National Canvass Director. She first chatted with me about life, then began fishing for information, moved to expressing her ‘disappointment’ and ‘surprise’ in my actions, and finally let me know that I would receive a cease and desist letter from her legal team. Both myself and the organization I work for received the cease and desist threat soon after. It demanded that we not approach any current Fund staff about job opportunities, and that we immediately shut down the canvass office. Though both my boss and I felt strongly that the threat would not stand up in a court of law, we played nice by replying with a promise to not speak to Fund staff about job opportunities. We let them know we would not comply with the unreasonable demand to shut down our canvass offices. After all that, I later learned from a friend within the network that they could not find my initial (long since expired) ‘Noncompete/Trade Secrets’ agreement. No matter, the Fund is more than willing to bully former staff and organizational coalition partners with frivolous lawsuit threats if it can help them keep even one employee from jumping ship.

    Because of poor workplace policies like these and many others, leadership at PIN is nearly exclusively ‘lifers’ who have worked for the network since college. These people are for the most part talented, good people who simply have no outside experience of better ways of operating and are ‘true believers’. Questioning policies or ways of operating is strongly discouraged. Changing the movement from within is very difficult and risky to one’s career. The times the Fund has successfully changed – such as implementing a minimum wage for canvassers and coming to a contract agreement with the TOP, it has come from a class action lawsuit and the threat of the NLRB.

    I still hold out hope that they can change and create a better workplace. If that happens, the Fund will only become stronger and more effective at creating social change.

    In good faith,

    -Robin

    • Papa

      Robin- We’ve never met, but I want you to know that the Portland office and the unionizing efforts are legend within the veteran canvassers of Chicago. Regardless of organization, canvassers have been whispering your truth to eachother on the sidewalk.

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience.

      <3 Nik

      • Robin

        I wish I could say I was a part of that – I wasn’t. I will try to reach out to TOP workers to see if they will share their stories.

  • Former Canvass Director

    I started working for the Fund as soon as I graduated from college. I was young, political, passionate and wanted to work to make things better. I thought I was going to make a difference. I was recruited hard and enthusiastically took my first salaried job living in a big city. The salary- $23,750 for an Assistant Canvass Director.

    On salary alone, there should have been red flags. In my post- Fund life I handled financial aid applications for a citywide non-profit. $23,750 is not a liveable salary given the hours worked. Debit is inevitable. The Fund encouraged staff to go out with their canvassers. This ‘going out’ required money out of pocket, not to mention valuable time. As a director you were expected to arrive early, stay late and often then attend a social event. In terms of hours, directors worked about 60-80. This also included mandatory weekends and no vacation. Still through all of this I was ‘sold’ on the Fund’s mission.

    I worked for the Fund for a little over a year. I was relocated 3 times and spent countless stints working in other cities. I was never given any incentive to move other than “It’s the right thing to do.” There was no compensation and no reward. It was an expectation. An expectation that asked too much of intelligent, political idealists. The cause was the ultimatum. Any wavering of your commitment to the organization meant you didn’t really care about the cause.

    I had a hard time coming to terms with the reality of working for the Fund. I didn’t want to believe that something I once cared so much about was so corrupt and damaging. I wanted to believe that these people I spent workdays with, nights with, lived with and partied with on the weekends cared about me just as much as I cared about them and just as much as we all cared about the issues. That wasn’t the case.

    I made some great friends (who I still keep in touch with) and learned a lot professionally in my time with the Fund. While I’m still working to pay off debt from my time with the Fund, the harder part has been rebuilding my trust in people.

    My time with the Fund ended shortly after I put my notice in to leave staff right before the summer canvass. I knew I could not handle another summer but was so committed to the organization and my friends I worked with that I wanted to finish out the project I was working on. Right after I put my notice in, I was fired. I was blackballed from the organization and not allowed to even apply to be a canvasser. They left me broke and almost homeless in a city I didn’t know. I was very easily given unemployment by the state for being fired unfairly.

    Soon after I left the Fund, I discovered that I had not been paid almost $2,000. There were missing paychecks among other misses on the Fund’s behalf. After many calls and emails, I was finally paid 6 months later. I also sit here today with debt that can be 100% attributed to my time with the Fund. It is not okay how the organization and it’s management has treated their employees over the years.

    I’ll end with a story about one of my work trips with the Fund. After numerous canvass directors left a small college town office, I was sent in for a week to help run it and go canvass. The Fund sent me on a Greyhound bus with a couple addresses. One of the office and one of the place I would be staying for the week. After I got off the bus, I took another bus and then walked about a mile to the house I would be staying it. This house was where the girlfriend’s dad of an ex canvasser lived. Sounds super normal and not sketchy at all, right? As I walked into the house there were beer cans everywhere, children running around without clothes on, one computer with WOW on at all times, and then there stood the man who owned this house. He looked like Dan Conner but if Dan Conner did meth and kept kidnapped girls in his basement. The first thing I noticed were the missing teeth. I was then shown to the back room with a small bed and a nightstand. A black light would have lit up the room. After putting down a layer of clothes to cover this bed I sat with a book until I noticed something on the nightstand. It was a tooth. A yellow, rotten, adult man tooth. Scared shitless I didn’t sleep the entire night and left as soon as I could in the morning. I did not go back. After calling the Regional Director almost in tears, I was told to just find somewhere else to stay. I didn’t feel safe anywhere and surely didn’t have enough money for a hotel room so I slept in the office.

    I’m not as optimistic about the Fund being able to make change as others. I think the problem is so deeply rooted in the infrastructure and lifelong employees. I would be excited about a redefined and re-imagined Fund with a true focus on social and environmental issues. The employees are precious resource and the key to effectively advocating for these issues. Just as we advocate for important issues, we also need to advocate for ourselves. In making the world better, we have to make ourselves better.

  • Nik

    Re: Canvassers are not prepared to deal with street harassment AKA:

    The Rock Story & How I Came To Fear Children’s Laughter.

    At this point I had two seasons under my belt. I had staffed in Chicago on a -15 degree day and consistently ranked as one of the top five canvassers in the best office in the country (we still hold the winter season record). Then I went to Minneapolis for the summer and enjoyed the role of Lead FM in the HRC street campaign for the Twin Cities. My first week there the office average went up by $600. We broke the city record and exceeded all expectations. I was back in Chicago, enjoying the fall, but eagerly looking forward to the winter months. Because well, it brings out the most hard core activist in anyone to do what we do in the winter, and I eat this shit for breakfast.

    My partner at the time and I were sitting in Wicker Park enjoying our day off when we got a call saying that there were some important recall elections happening in Colorado, would we be willing to fly out within the next couple of days and do some Get Out The Vote (GOTV) work? DUH. We had actually just been discussing how I had never seen Colorado, and how much she thought I’d love the mountains. We jumped on the chance. I also felt excited to be doing something a little bit different, because I love fundraising & membership building, but there are so many other important outreach efforts needed to truly build up the progressive movement.

    I received a phone call from someone at Work For Progress (part of the Fund umbrella) and things like pay, hours, stipend, and housing were explained to me. The money was significantly less than what I was making per week as a fundraiser, but I didn’t mind at all. Getting the voter turn out a moving is so important, this would be a labor of love. Besides, I heard that GOTV volunteers love to bring in snacks for the canvassers! And mountains. I also asked the woman who called me to pass the message along that I was trans, and to have people call me by the name I used, rather than my birth name. She did just that and I was very grateful. She then warned me to bring the “most conservative clothing” I could find, because we wanted to “blend in” with the area that we were mobilizing.

    A team of five of us (including the CD or main director at the time) flew out to Colorado and got into the rental car provided by Work For Progress. We were told to drive to Colorado Springs. If you’re unfamiliar with the name of the town, you may know it better as the HQ for Focus On The Family (aka the opposition we have mentioned in every “rap” we’ve given). I was pretty afraid, and voiced those concerns. I had yet to start HRT, and wasn’t always “passing” as a man much less heteronormative and hear I was , heading right into the nest of my most outspoken foes to get them to vote. I was assured that we would take precautions to be safe, and that we might even get sent to Pueblo because there was another campaign going on there. I tried to focus on driving while suffering from altitude sickness and trust that everything would be okay.

    We arrived at this very run down motel. No big deal, I knew that it wouldn’t be swanky, flying us out here last minute can’t be cheap and again, this was for the campaign. I met some people I had only heard of through the network and was glad to hear that they too had heard about me. For example, the HRC Manhattan office was there. I got to meet the people that not only consistently landed at the top of the fundraising list, but also touched the lives of my friends who directed in Chicago. The two offices were the only HRC offices in attendance (the rest of the canvassers being from Environment America, PIRG, Fair Share Alliance, and GCI) an we quickly became friends and stuck together.

    There was a full team meeting reminding every canvasser to “look conservative” and not mention that we had been flown in from out of state because if the Republicans found out that detail it would “look bad”. We weren’t allowed to post pictures on social media or even really talk about being there. Canvassing started tomorrow, be ready at this time.

    I was happy to hear that the campaign staff had housed me with the men (as my id still said F) but nervous because they were all strangers in my room, and we were sleeping two to a bed. I didn’t know the level of education any of the environmental or PIRG canvassers had on trans* issues. I had to live with them and change in that room. I expressed my concerns to the staff (and my gratitude for the effort). They seemed apologetic but frazzled ( most of them looked like they hadn’t slept properly in days). I said I would be okay for the night, but for the remainder of the campaign asked to be housed with canvassers of either gender that I knew personally. I gave them a list of the friends I had there (quite a few). They apologized again and told me that if any thing came up at all to make me uneasy to just ask and they would personally switch beds if needed. I was so tired that night I just crashed and from there on out I was with people I knew.

    We did a day in Colorado Springs and then a day in Pueblo. The organizers of the GOTV effort were telling us that some of us would stay in Pueblo and some would go back. I advocated for the HRC offices staying in Pueblo as it was a safer environment for visible queer (no matter how many polos we wear) people to be in. The response was ” we need HRC canvassers in Colorado Springs because you are the best canvassers in the country and that’s the race that is losing the worst”.

    Then the day came. I was about half way through a 8 hour canvassing shift. I had just finished knocking on my last door of a three story apartment building within a complex and was looking at my iPod ( with the voter access network information on it) to figure out the next part of my turf. All of a sudden I hear a group (3-5) of young boys aged anywhere from 8-15 or so. They were yelling things like “faggot” and “what are you doing in our neighborhood faggot, we’re going to get you”. I looked up and saw them pointing and laughing directly at me. My heart was pounding and I was on high alert. I immediately remembered where I was. I decided to just put my head down and quicken my pace, because I could feel the eyes of everyone outside on me (it was 100 degrees that day and none of the apartments had ac) and they were not friendly. A few seconds later I hear a very loud CRASH behind me. I turned my head and saw the human head sized ROCK that I just saw being used to prop open the door of the third story porch the boys were standing on. I froze for a split second before I heard their laughter joined by some of the adults, mixed with a “better aim next time”. Then I SPRINTED out of there (completely ignoring my pretty wicked shin splints) until I was a few blocks away. I immediately called the closest person to me who was a mile and a half away. We met up by the car, I cried, was terrified. She assured me that I didn’t have to go back out there if I didn’t want to. After talking for awhile, I decided I wasn’t going to let them get the best of me, and went back out there and knocked on 50 more doors.

    After the shift I told the team and team lead what happened when we all got back to the car. Another canvasser on the team offered to be the driver for the rest of the night because he said I deserved a beer or twenty. When we got back to the main office, there was a news crew. The main director pulled us aside and said to make sure to “look busy and productive” to look good for the news. I then told her what had happened to me, how I was still in a state of trauma shock, and scared. She told me that she was sorry to hear that, but urged me not to call the police (because I wasn’t technically here), and to either still look busy inside or stay entirely out of the way outside if I couldn’t keep a straight face. I was taken aback, but remembered how sleep deprived she was so instead of saying how crazy that all was I just asked to have someone on the opposite side of the street as me the next day. She said she could make that happen.Everyone back at the hotel did their best to cheer me up and help me process. I went to bed terrified, grateful to be alive, but hopeful that things would be okay when I had someone with me the next day.

    Less than an hour before going canvassing I was approached. I was told that ensuring a “sides partner” for me would be “too much of a hassle”. Let that sink in. I had just escaped death by less than two strides the day before while doing this work. I was willing to risk it again because I know just existing as trans is risky and I can’t stay inside every time someone wants to hurt me. I just asked that I wouldn’t be alone. The worst thought running through my head had been that if I hadn’t quickened my pace they could have hit my skull, and I would have laid there bleeding out, for who knows how long, with no friendly faces to look at, no one to call for help. And it was TOO MUCH OF A HASSLE to ensure my safety. (btw this is how you fix the turfs on the VAN app to accommodate: Combine two turfs into one, assign two canvassers to the turn, have one canvasser highlight the odd side of a street, the other the even. The app will store updates and info from both canvassers on the turf. Estimated time it would take: 20 minutes at most).

    I went anyway. We lost the election. We went home. I was a mess.

    Many people within the office tried their best to help me adjust. I would go into a panic anytime I heard children laughing or a loud noise (and I was in Chicago). I asked to be taken off of Field Managing while I recovered. But after two days (and raising $1,400) I was asked to start again. I let the director (same on who was with me in CO) know that I wasn’t ready yet. She said my numbers sure looked like I was ready. I told her that canvassing against Focus On The Family was the only thing keeping me going for those five hours and that I just wanted to focus on kicking ass. I also was prone to nervous break downs on site and needed vet FMs around to help me feel safe.

    This kind of victim blaming kept happening. As time went on I became more mentally unstable ( btw I was never offered any kind of help finding a therapist much less paying for one with no insurance by either The Fund or Work For Progress) and slid into the deepest depression I have ever experienced. I hid in my room staring with dead eyes into the distance. I couldn’t look my partner in the eyes (even though she had been there too) and our relationship started to crumble. I isolated myself from everyone. My will to even get to the office in the morning much less fundraise suffered. I was told I should think about whether “canvassing was still for me” or to work on my “mindset” as advice. I hated myself. I hated the world. I wanted no part in any of it.

    Eventually my partner and I ended things, we were both too deep into our own depressions. I moved to Denver. When i was working for GCI office there, I saw that director from the Recall Elections again. I greeted her by name and told her where we worked together, asked if she remembered me. She looked me in the eyes and said ” No, I’m sorry. There were a lot of people on that campaign.”

    I know that a lot of my friends who worked in Chicago or Minneapolis have remained relatively safe and sheltered from the nastier aspects of “the model” because of the adjustments made by many activists over the past years, but I thought it was important to highlight just how quickly that all can change when you answer a calling to help out elsewhere. I thought you might want to know the whole story.

    And to those who were in my life during all of this: Thank you so much for trying to help. I’m so sorry that I got so incredibly dark for so long. I’m still scared to go outside sometimes, but I do it. And I do it knowing you all have my back.

    Also, when I was back in Denver a very good friend of mine and I went to Colorado Springs and put HRC stickers everywhere. So the LGBT kids still stuck there would know they aren’t alone. <3

  • anonymous

    something that disturbs me to the core is the “get them laid, get them paid” mantra that is thrown around so many director training and mentioned so many times during the summer canvass. this mantra, and it’s ever so fun cousin, “funcest”, perpetuates rape culture within an organization that supposedly stands for equality and progressive ideals. i feel that not only was there an unnecessarily sexualized atmosphere, but it was encouraged by national staff and used to recruit and manipulate canvassers and directors. This is a completely unprofessional and downright creepy way to run a national non profit.

    When sexual harassment or assault did take place, those in leadership positions were not trained on how to respond at all. I was verbally harassed by a coworker in a grossly inappropriate way, in front of a guest to our office. I was completely mortified but I felt that this individual was not someone I would be able to take any action against. As a female director, I had fought hard for respect and here it was being whisked out from under my feet. I spoke to my CD about what had occurred, and was told it was my fault for antagonizing him and “you know you bring that out in him”. I couldn’t believe I was being victim blamed by another progressive, someone with whom I’d spent countless hours campaigning with, someone who I had trusted. I wasn’t allowed to take any action, I just had to calm down.

    My voice wasn’t important, just like the voice of the canvasser who had been groped on the street wasn’t important. We shouldn’t have provoked, we shouldn’t have been vulnerable. This is completely unacceptable in progressive politics. Rape jokes are not funny. Get ’em laid, get ’em paid is not something that you want associated with your non profit. Sexual harassment should be punished, and all employees should go through training on how to appropriately handle these situations in their offices. I can’t believe this isn’t already a thing for one of the country’s largest progressive fundraising organizations, and I am appalled that HRC would continue to contract to the Fund.

    • Anonymous

      I’d like to emphasize how important it is to train staff on how to deal with situations like this. I was sexually assaulted by a coworker. When I came forward about it, I was told by higher ups that they would get fired and if they were to ask me anything, I legally could not say anything. After that, they continued to contact me, even after I told them there was nothing I could do or say they began threatening with a lawsuit. I was so confused, angry and scared. I do know that my director did everything they could, but as people have been saying, they’re not trained on how to handle extremely sensitive situations like this.
      Not long after, in Oak Park, I greeted an elderly man who blew right past me. Then about 5 minutes later, he came back and started talking to me about college and random things, then asked me why I was holding a binder. I got a little excited, thinking that I was going to get a donation out of him. After I went through the rap, I got the classic, “you’re too pretty to be gay, sweetheart.” I rolled my eyes (if only you knew how much I hated being called sweetheart) and told him to have a good day, to which he then responded with, “psh, ungrateful. I’m going to rape the gay out of you.” I had someone on their third day, so I kept my composure, I quickly turned around and ducked into a near Chase bank and went into the bathroom, shaking. I then called a director from a different office, who I consider a very close friend. They did their best to talk me through it, but since again they were not trained, their response was well you know, people like that are the reason you are out there. This is our fight.
      Being heterosexual, that response always killed me. Since I was lucky enough to not be discriminated against on a daily basis for my sexual orientation, answers like this made me feel obligated to put up with it. I felt like it was my job to stand out there, be spit on, pushed into walls, threatened and even hit with a shopping cart.
      Under no circumstances should someone feel like they are responsible for their assault, and you’d think this is a no brainer, but under no circumstances should someone feel like they deserve this. It’s not fair to say, “it comes with the territory.” The safety of our friends and coworkers is essential to a healthy working environment, at the very least, people should be trained on how to deal with situations to make sure they don’t get worse.

  • Katie

    My story is nothing original, which is why it’s even sadder.

    I landed a job at the Fund in May of 2011, the day before my college graduation. So awesome and unheard of, I thought, that I could immediately start my career doing something meaningful. Not to mention the title, “Director.” How badass was I, right?!

    …the only price I had to pay, of course, was working 80 hours a week and surviving on $25k a year in New York City.

    This “Fund model” is infamous. From day one of training as an Assistant Director it became obvious that staff were disposable. Our office was made to be a machine: interview and onboard as many people as possible–but only the ones who went to good schools, don’t bother actually reading any applications or resumes–, immediately fire anyone who hadn’t learned the script overnight on their own time, crank out canvass shifts and cut loose the ones who didn’t make the mark within 3 days. The ones who did make it already had their days numbered, thanks to the emotional stress and pressure of constantly making quota. We were implicitly- or not so implicitly- trained to burn out our staff, while simultaneously working ourselves to the bone. Why was it ok? Because there would always be new canvassers. There would always be a new batch of students, recent grads, and aspiring politicos on their way to the office, eager to make a difference and destined to be tossed aside. Anyone with half a brain and/or heart would soon realize that this could NEVER be considered a sustainable organizational model.

    A few months in, on my 8th consecutive day of work, after 90 hours in the office and an extra 12 the previous day preparing for and working Manhattan Pride, I decided I couldn’t do it anymore. My voice was gone, bank account at -$60, I’d forgotten what my roommates looked like and doubted I’d even have enough pocket change to buy a slice of Two Bros that day. I stepped down, and after a few more months as an FM lost my conviction. Getting fired was the best thing that could’ve happened to me.

    How on earth is all this fair?

    Obviously it’s not. But The Fund Monster feeds on the energy of young, idealistic activists, banking on their optimism and willingness to tough it out in the trenches with each other– even if that means surviving on $1 slices of pizza. It’s drilled into your head from the beginning that we all make shit money but we do it FOR THE CAUSE !!! So if you can’t deal with it, then you obviously don’t care enough about the cause and you’re a terrible person and should go work for the Man.

    One of the saddest parts of life at the Fund is the inevitably amazing group of people you will meet. People with real compassion, humor, and a true desire to better the world. I met my best friends during my 6 months there. When I think of all the hours these incredible people put into their jobs at the Fund, and what potential this kind of work has to be empowering and life-changing, I realize that destroying this organization would be far less effective than convincing them to change their tyrannical, hypocritical ways. So, a few suggestions:

    1. PAY EVERYONE MORE. Duh. Pretty sure if you break down the hourly wages for an Assistant Director in most states you’ll be breaking at least a few labor laws.

    2. Give canvassers a chance to train more before throwing them to the wolves. How many people actually win at the entire scope of a new job in the first 3 days?! Seriously.

    3. Provide serious training on inappropriate conduct and how to handle sexual harassment. Our office was nicknamed ‘the cesspool”…on what planet does that create a safe space for, like, anyone?

    4. Provide a compassionate protocol for canvassers who are harassed on the street. It’s inevitable, so everyone should be made aware of the risks, and a support system must be put in place.

    5. Subscribe to the principles of the organizations you represent: treat your employees with the respect they deserve, honor work-life balance, and allow people to do their jobs with dignity.

    To HRC, Environment America, and all the other non-profits who employ this terrible organization, I implore you to stop paying the Fund until they fix their policies and treat their staff like humans.

    To all of you who are still toughing it out, you’re not alone.

  • Anon

    Not necessarily a horror story, but I am part of a short-term training program that is affiliated with the network. I am proud of the work I have done thus far in the program, and am excited and passionate about the issues I have worked on. However, being associated with the fund for the public interest network means that all the organizers in my program are required to run a summer canvass office, as somewhat of a “capstone” experience. After all the work I have put in this year, I have no intention of quitting before the summer canvass, but I am dreading it. Do any former directors have any advice about how to push through?

  • Noah

    My time with the Fund was brief, but illuminating. I first heard about the fund when a dear friend was graduating college and had accepted an offer to direct an office- an offer which included moving to a new state. I was sketched out by the details of this, and looked up the organization. I remember reading about past complaints, and mentioned my concerns. Fast forward, and three months later I found myself in the same city, jobless, and taking the offer from my friend for an interview with the fund, as he had spent the summer working there and was very excited about the place. And who wouldn’t be, after finding themselves in such a great group of people. The people are what keeps the fund going- vibrant, knowledgeable, young and enthusiastic. I stumbled through the first few days, and wound up scraping by and making staff the third day. Though I didn’t know it till months later, I came within tens of dollars of missing quota repeatedly over my first two months. When I finally learned the model of the fund (you must make weekly average quota or you are paid minimum wage, you cannot miss quota for more than 2 days in a row or you are fired), I began living in an entirely different, stress filled world. My numbers fluctuated wildly- which was partly due to natural luck (I challenge anyone to raise $180 on the street in pouring rain), and largely because of my ‘mindset’. I had candid conversations with directors about the unreasonableness of our situation- directors I truly thought were on my side. But I was repeatedly told that the incredibly poor terms of my employment were better than theirs, and that I should rise above that because what really brought both of us here was our commitment to the mission- the mission being LGBTQ equality. And that kept me coming back for a while, but the experience of losing multiple amazing co-workers due to the unrealistic quota requirements, having coworkers experience harassment on the street, experiencing harassment myself, and watching the mistreatment of my directors all brought me to the unalterable conclusion that this place wasn’t just poor- it was unsafe to work at. My job had zero security, paid barely enough for me to survive, and I was pressured to retain staff but couldn’t lie to people. I similarly could not pressure people to give me their credit card information, and feel it is a detriment to the movement to pressure folks into giving money instead of working with them to determine how they feel most comfortable supporting our cause. I know from many conversations that I changed the minds of people out there on the street- but I wasn’t a ‘successful’ canvasser because I hadn’t raised quota.

    HRC needs to reevaluate whether working with the Fund is in their best interests- though there may be advantages to doing their outreach this way, the cost to humans doing that outreach is not worth whatever benefit there may be.

  • Lisa

    I ultimately left the Fund because it happens to be an organization where the more you know, the less inclined you are to be part of perpetuating the process.

    I spent a year actively blocking out the concerns I had with the untenable workplace conditions, instead clinging to the few aspects of the work that were truly rewarding. Those aspects are few in number and dwindle over time to relate almost exclusively to the camaraderie and great enthusiasm shared among those working in these offices.

    Many of my concerns are addressed in the letter, and I behoove the Fund and HRC to take note and critically reexamine the way that they do business to improve the safety of the workplace; training, support, and security of staff; and transparency and diversity of the operation. These are not suggestions; these are changes that require immediate action in order to avoid any more damage to the movement.

    Like others, I will focus on aspects of the work that are not fully addressed in the letter that I find to be nonetheless equally important.

    The secret life of scripted directors.
    The Fund relies on the tenacious idealism of recent college graduates to run their campaigns across the country. They recruit new staff with the enticing idea of challenging and rewarding work building people power coupled with the opportunity to learn and utilize valuable skills related to coalition building and various campaign tactics. In reality, the job that you are taking is one that is largely based on repeating a set of scripts from the moment you walk into the office until the moment you lock up – each one you are obligated to repeat verbatim. The Fund’s idea of scaling and coalition building seems to be based on the idea of replicating an army of mindless automatons rather than nurturing and bolstering the skills that will produce knowledgeable and charismatic leaders. It should come as no surprise that this type of experience turns many away from pursuing future campaign work.

    “Bodies” over people.
    This concern has already been addressed by others below but is worth repeating. Within the Fund there is an extremely low valuation of staff beyond the ability to raise funds. This is evident by the low pay, multiple and tandem ramifications placed on staff for not making their weekly quota, and lack of job security provided to both new and tenured staff. Unfortunately, the devaluation of directors is perhaps even worse. During my time with the Fund I had the unfortunate (or perhaps fortunate?) experience of being made privy to the existence of an internal document that discusses and ranks current directors. This document contains information on directors like their commitment date, likelihood of staying in the network, recommitment category (as in “How can we best get them to stay?”), recommended job, location interests, and wraps up with each director scored based on a ten point scale. However, most telling is the column that includes comments about each director typically made by their regional director. I’ve kept this document to myself largely because it would be upsetting to many of the deeply committed directors I had the pleasure of knowing. It discusses poor averages, calls some directors “pluggers,” and highlights those that are “conflict adverse,” etc.

    For fun I’ll include details from my evaluation: I’m a seven out of ten director – I was not given points for being a “good writer,” I do not have a “good public presence” and I am not “good one on one.” I was given a 25% likelihood of staying in the network (despite giving notice that I did not intend to renew my contract at the end of the season), my recommended job demotes me from CD to AD, and my one line reduction is “Has lots of talents but is chronically flaky.”

    Despite seeing this document I continued to fulfill my directing duties until the end of the season. My sincere respect and gratitude goes out to the stellar FM team that carried the office to an all-star record-breaking finish, despite their inept, unlikeable, and flaky lead director.

    This is getting quite long so I will try to wrap up by only touching on a few other concerns that perhaps others will elaborate on.

    – To a detriment there is an emphasis on sales that undermines campaign knowledge.
    – Pre-recruitment severely misleads college students about the roles and responsibilities of the job.
    – Student directors should be completely briefed on the differences between their compensation and the compensation of full-time directors.
    – Canvass offices should not be shut down, nor canvassers moved from HRC to Environment or PIRG because campaign goals are exceeded.
    – Canvassers should not be forced to fly to other states to work on electoral campaigns, and if they elect to go, should be informed beforehand that the commitment requires more hours and less pay.

    When I left the Fund and found myself enjoying my first Saturday off in over a year, I honestly felt like the unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. There are so many changes that need to be made in order to improve the health and sustainability of the Fund’s campaign efforts, and I hold on to the idea that the hearts and minds of those capable of making these changes are receptive and willing.

  • Chad

    I too will share my story. I was a top performing canvasser who was quickly whisked into a field manager role due to my productivity. Throughout my entire time I riased over a quarter of a million dollars for ffpir.

    I had been developing qualms over the secret-society aspects of assistant director and above dichotomies and the good guy after-hour tactics to maintain staff since the onset of working under the fund but everything took a steep change in direction when I left for boston for the collective grouping of grassroots training. By that time I had single handedly ran the street campaigning despite my immersive familiarty with the residential territories I had been accustomed and low brow alchohol drenched performance of the CD I worked under.

    She had been given the role based off of her succesful ability to socialize within the inner gauntlet of the director world. She had walked away from duties to visit happy hours at nearby bars and yet she reaped most of the credit for my tireless work. Bringing up these concerns seemed to provide little concern over her inabilities. I’d have been better off providing justification with a cartoon whiteboard as the bush dynasty had better luck with justifying the Iraq war.

    Regardless of these exerpts she was granted invitation to boston anyway. My hope was to leap far away into a fresh office with a new start but even that went sour. Regardless of the fact of how many funds I single-handedly procurred. All it took was a couple weeks of mingling with the higher ups to realize that the dichotomy of yes men attitude and a pretty face could hold more power over my usurped choice in office than my dedication, wits and loyalty could ever provide.

    They ended up giving that office to an assistant director who was publicly noticed pursuing crack cocaine on the streets of boston and had only served two months prior at the time.

    My ultimate reward? A demotion.. no explanation.. they were more interested keeping me at the office I had built and managed for years. After all, why recognize a cog in their machine when it was already doing the goal-breaking job in an office most had abandonned already?

    Ffpir has never shown me anything but the callous superficiality of snobbery and narcissism of the director realm. This is the farthest thing from equality possible.

    But they did consider having me to enjoy the retreat of aspen colorado once, I’ll admit. But then I found out they were planning on me being the trip’s proverbial janitor. As you could imagine.. I declined going entirely.

  • Dave

    After graduating college I worked for a (partisan) political campaign, which was four months of intense, but wonderful hell. I fell in love with canvassing & organizing, and I sought a job that, like a campaign, would feel like a crucible, but where I wouldn’t have to search for work every three months. Of course, I found and fell in love with the PIN. I left after a year, and my reasons are probably all too common. I was a Fellow and an AD for a summer Canvass. For me, the long hours and intense schedule was NOT the problem. Management was the problem:

    1) Strategically unclear expectations: Its amazing how easily I could tell a college student “you’ll get to work for a great cause; also, quota is important and if you miss it you’ll be fired, but tell me more about why you care about the issue!” During pre-recruitment, internship recruitment, and more, I was amazed at how easily students avoided asking real questions. I technically told them everything, but made sure they had no time to process the important parts of our conversation, because I needed bodies in the door. Then, of course, I realized, the same had been done with me.

    2) One time I fired someone over the phone 2 hours before their shift, because their paperwork had been confused and they were supposed to have been fired the previous night. Talk about classy.

    3) That damned focusing question: “Would you say you’re with us on the issue? Great, let me show you one more reason why you should get involved tonight” — I can’t tell you how many little old ladies I got money from because they were confused and thought I ‘looked just like their grandson’. I once tore-up a check because it was clear the person who wrote it was confused, thought they were paying a bill, and should have consulted with their partner, who wasn’t home. After briefly feeling excited that I made contact at the right time (Alright! I got the senile partner, before the cogent one came home!) I realized how horrible it was that I had taken advantage of their serious medical condition. I tore up the check, didn’t make quota, and heard the same script: “how do you plan to fix this?”. I didn’t tell my CD why I missed quota that night because I knew they had no power to change anything — why make their life tough too?

    4) Blaming down: I’ve worked plenty of canvass operations, and know that sometimes a turf just simply under-performs. But when a qualified, capable FM came back from turf with a low-night, it was my job to ask them what they did wrong, why they were slipping, and how they plan to fix it. My script involved absolutely no offer to help and no authority to exercise judgement calls — I was supposed to (cheerfully) make them feel bad until the problem either went away or they were fired. That’s their idea of ‘management’.

    5) Being instructed to game the system: if a great canvasser had a bad few days, we’d ask them if they’d like to stay home ‘sick’ for a few days, so their quota could reset at the end of the week and they wouldn’t hit three bad nights in a row. That’s a trick I learned at the Director’s Training, from another office’s CD.

    6) Getting pity-money on the doors: I canvassed during a severe winter storm; I was dressed appropriately, but there’s only so much you can do to keep your walk-sheet dry in a down-pour. When quota was $110, I hit over $900 because people felt so bad for me. Talk about empowering!

    7) Alcoholism: EVERY. SINGLE. Mandatory fun time I attended centered around alcohol –whether it was a student-PIRG event (yeah), Fellows Training, AD training, or pizza night. Talk about depressing.

    8) No commitment to the campaigns: as the fellow, I was our office’s *only* program staff — before hitting the summer Canvass, I had promised coalition partners I would be around to help (at a significantly reduced level), but it turned out that I was being funded by a different organization so I couldn’t spend time with that email account or coalition partners. The campaign was swinging into high gear (legislative session!), and we backed out when our partners needed us most, because “I had to be a team player” — the irony is awful. Of course, our state group still fundraises off that victory, even though we pulled the rug out from our coalition partners’ feet at the last minute and basically risked setting the whole movement backwards.

    9) The annual Aspen Vacation: What an incredibly awful way to spend money. My #1 thought that whole week was “yeah, we fired people for this money; guess I’ll keep drinking”.

  • Sara

    Reading through these posts is very disheartening, but sadly not surprising.

    One of the things I find most deplorable is all of the mentions of sexual assault and FFPIR’s reaction (or lack thereof) to them.

    There is so much I could say, but I’ll list a few of my biggest grievances instead of going on forever. I served several roles within TIPN, I was a fellow and worked on two summer canvasses as an AD then CD.
    1. My biggest grievance with FFPIR was their reaction to my sexual assault when I was a CD. I was sexually assaulted by my drunk FM when my AD (for reasons I still don’t understand) let him into my house when I was at home sick. The next day I told my RD, and she was admittedly very empathetic. I do not fault her for anything. However, her higher-ups did not allow us to immediately terminate my FM. At this time, another canvasser came forward and disclosed she also was sexually harassed by this FM. Despite both of our stories we had to wait several horrifying days until “legal” approved his termination. I was discouraged from taking any legal action against the FM, and he continued to stalk me at my home and at the office. I repeatedly told FFPIR I wanted a restraining order, but they persisted in discouraging me from taking any legal action. It was the worst time of my life. Aside from my RD, no senior staff in TPIN wanted to listen to me or support me. I became very depressed, apathetic, and naturally began to falter at the work I’d once excelled at. I quit at the end of the summer. Many senior staff attempted to discourage me, though I could not take them seriously because they did not care about what I’d been through. People in the Network pretend to care about you until something that undermines all they “stand” for goes wrong. It became obvious to me that this organization does not care at all about addressing the very serious problems engrained within it. Importantly, sex-positive organizations like HRC MUST discontinue their work with an organization that silences its employees who experience sexual assault and harassment. It is hypocritical not to do so.
    2. Group think and the lack of external influences was another major problem. The vast majority of “career track” TPIN and FFPIR employees have been with the organization since college. There are certainly exceptions, but this was generally the case when I was there. This creates a very stifling organizational culture where new staff are indoctrinated into existing group-think and the institution is never questioned. There is an incredible amount of respect for existing structures and hierarchies, and little to no critical thinking. This dynamic is very odd for an organization that touts itself as “progressive” and negates any real change within the system.
    3. The low pay hinders organizational diversity. FFPIR and TPIN have abysmal salaries. This creates a serious lack of socio-economic diversity among the staff. During my time in TPIN I knew countless people who were supported by their parents. I also knew people who weren’t, and they were defaulting on their student loans and going into debt. I was one of the people with no outside help. I somehow avoided going into debt, but I often dealt with the stress of having $5 to my name. Many people who did not have a supplemental source of income (like mom and dad) did not last long. Staying with this organization just is not financially feasible for many people. This creates a system where more privileged people stay with the organization while others are filtered out.
    4. The organizational in-fighting was horrible. Different parts of TPIN were always pit against one another. I was constantly berated by other staff members for being “a lazy fellow.” I always felt bad about having an “easy” job even though it was anything but, and I was a very good canvass director who always stepped up to the challenge when I ran summer offices. I was also privy to the document that ranked not just directors but all staff. It was really disheartening to feel like my higher ups were constantly gossiping about me and other co-workers. This is the most unsupportive work environment I’ve ever experienced. It was vicious. There was constant gossip and backstabbing. I trusted very few people.
    5. The annual Aspen shit show. Really? THIS is what they spend organizational money on? As a non-profit? This annual event was disgusting and only perpetuated the alcoholism and disgusting gossip and in-fighting already rampant with FFPIR. I did not go my first year on staff because I thought it was a weird, cult-like activity and my staff manager really came down on me about it. I also found that taking PTO was very difficult outside of Aspen. They’d rather everyone vacation together in Aspen than enjoy their lives outside of work because they wanted to make sure you DID NOT have a life outside of work.
    It has taken me years to overcome the depression and shame I felt during my time with FFPIR and TPIN. I still don’t easily trust people, and I’ve become very guarded. I often wonder if there is a “fix” that would help the organization. However, I really don’t think it serves a purpose. Its “advocacy” branches are far less effective than other more established and well regarded non-profits. Other canvassing out-source companies treat their employees better, or canvassing operations can be brought in-house. Green Peace did this and I’ve often heard their staff feel more connected to their work for this reason. FFPIR and TPIN do far more harm than good and I honestly think they need to not exist. Disband the whole thing.

  • Jamie

    After graduating college, I became an Assistant Director for the FFPI. After three months, I was promoted to lead Canvass Director. I would work 12-14 hour days because HRC’s bill was something I truly believed in. In truth, working for the Fund was a nightmare. I found that I was in charge of hiring canvassers to work on behalf of the Fund from a corporation standpoint. The entirety of my work was quota-focused, where raising money was the only thing that mattered. Petition-signing, phone banks- basically all of the things the Fund told me they were about which convinced me to sign up- all fell by the wayside. My canvassers couldn’t support themselves on $8/hour, while the Fund still expected them to work at the Fund as a full-time job. The Fund took no responsibility for its employees.

  • Anon

    I have very mixed feelings about my experience with the Public Interest Network. I was a canvasser for nearly a year and then a AD/CD for another 2 years, followed by about 3 years as program staff for one of the state environment groups while also running the summer canvass.

    I did work crazy hours as a director, which I expected going into the job and didn’t necessarily mind since I believe in the work. However, there is a lot of pressure from the canvass leadership to grow the office, raise the canvass average AND lead by example by raising high numbers yourself. During one week on a given summer, I had an emotional breakdown. The office wasn’t quite growing fast enough, and my best assistance director quit. Then I got attacked by a dog on turf. It jumped on me, biting me on my shoulder as the homeowner opened the door, and then once again on my thigh as I was trying to get away. Thankfully, the dog’s owner held it down and came out to help. She assured me that the animal had all its shots, and we exchanged contact information. I took about 30 minutes to gather my thoughts and figure out what to do next, and of course… I KEPT CANVASSING! I still hadn’t reached my goal, so I kept knocking on doors until I passed the $200-mark. Then it was time to call it a day, so I picked up my crew (of course, I was field managing as well), and we went back to the office. I was so terrified of damaging my office’s ability to meet its summer goals that I DIDN’T TELL ANY OF MY STAFF WHAT HAD HAPPENED! The next day, I talked with my regional director. To be fair, she was very supportive and asked me to take the rest of the day off, but I had to keep canvassing door-to-door the rest of the summer, which was incredibly difficult. I believed in the cause and cared about my office and what we were trying to accomplish, so I kept recruiting and hiring and training and canvassing. And I pushed my feelings inward, never sharing this experience with anyone else.

    To a certain extent, I blame myself for pushing my body/mind so hard that I felt it necessary to continue canvassing after such as awful experience. But the canvass leadership deserves a level of blame as well for promoting this “take no prisoners” and “don’t stop until you drop” philosophy.

    It’s been many years since this episode. I now understand that letting the phone ring more than twice is not a crime. I now know that sometimes it’s best to take a step back and think rather than put your head down and do the next task in your director to-do list. Also, I have seen many other canvass operations that are as successful–if not more so–with less directing staff per office (and their directors work only 40-to-50-hour weeks!), so I’m convinced that it is possible to limit hours for directors without sacrificing the canvass product.

    There has to be a way to work smarter instead of harder without compromising results, and the public interest network has to find that balance or it may be doomed to continue its slow yet steady downward spiral.

  • Rachel Wooster

    Dear Canvassers,

    I am Reporter currently working on an article about “The Fund” and Environment California. I would appreciate help in the following ways:
    To hear any first hand accounts from canvassers who worked on Environment California campaigns.
    Anywhere in the State of California would be great. If you are in the Bay Area, or Santa Cruz County that would be wonderful, but not required.

    To know details about what your training is like for Environment California.
    How many hours or days of training do you get?
    What does that training involve?

    Do you have quotas?
    What are they?
    Are you fired if you don’t meet them?

    Thank you in advance for any help you can give me in reporting about this.

    Sincerely,
    Rachel Wooster
    Rachel@MountainBulletin.com