Things To Know When You Apply
The Student PIRGs are part of The Public Interest Network — a group of organizations that share a vision of a better country, a set of core values, and a strategic approach to getting things done. We encourage you to read below for things you should know about our network when you apply.
1. Transpartisan. Doing what’s in the public interest isn’t about progressive or conservative. Our approach to social change, our “politics” if you will, defies easy definition. Our members and staff might characterize themselves variously as centrists, pragmatists, environmentalists, progressives, conservatives, non-ideological, liberals, neoliberals, moderates, feminists, futurists, post-modernists, or in myriad other unique ways. We welcome that.
2. Cutting edge. We focus on problems associated with progress and abundance. As we’ve moved over the past 100 years from a society characterized by material scarcity to one of increasing affluence, that creates new challenges. One big one is preserving our planet and natural environment. Another is inventing new systems for distribution of income and wealth when technological advances and globalism are literally putting us all out of work. “Progress,” and the fact that as a society we are no longer just barely scraping by in terms of material things, also creates new opportunities. We can, and need to, focus more on the quality of our lives, the safety of consumer products, the transparency and fairness of business practices from Wall Street to Main Street, and human rights.
3. Paradigm shift. Political debates that have been dominant for centuries as humankind sought to cope with and overcome material scarcity, can, and need to be, re-examined as we move toward a post-scarcity reality. The opportunities created by the potential of advanced technologies and global interconnectedness should be tapped, not resisted. We inform our work with a continuing robust conversation about a transformationally different socio-economic paradigm. For more on this topic, click here.
4. The public interest & individual rights. As society and the political world wrestle with new challenges, some constants remain: the public interest is never served by decision-making over which any one special interest has outsized power; and certain core values that have guided the better angels of our nature since the dawn of civilization still, and must, endure -- values such as freedom, individual rights, fairness, the Golden Rule, recognition of our common humanity and need for one another, humility, and a sense of wonder at the awesomeness of existence.
5. Problem-solving. We're principled but pragmatic, working to find common ground with people whatever their “politics.” We prefer dialogue rather than polarization. We don’t “un-friend” anyone just because they have a different point of view on an issue we care about. Today’s goofball is tomorrow’s convert, and vice versa. Where opposing camps aren’t on common ground, there has to be compromise to get stuff done. That’s one of many reasons we don’t vilify as “enemies” those with whom we disagree. We want big change but accept incremental change. We want to organize people from all political perspectives around problems we want addressed, starting the conversation with them where they are.
6. Free speech and an open mind. "Political correctness" is sometimes just an epithet thrown at people with liberal views. But to the extent that PC refers to a culture of condescension toward, or even censorship of, certain points of view that one group disapproves of, that’s not us. We believe in free speech, for one thing. But also, we believe to be a good organizer you have to be able to understand and even empathize with an opposing point of view. We train on this and expect people to be able to argue both sides of every issue equally well.
7. Civility. Political work and change usually entail conflict. That’s a given. But we also believe in civility. We believe in always remembering we might be wrong and the other person right. We try to avoid filter bubbles and talking to only those who share our views. We want to, and have to, surround ourselves with views and values different from our own.
8. Results. We’re about getting stuff done. We're about moving people in our direction, not just talking among ourselves about why “we” are right and “they” are wrong. Since no one agrees with anyone 100%, we work on discrete problems and solutions without connecting them to every other problem out there, since some people who agree with us on one thing may not even view the other problem as a problem. No group can work on every problem anyway, just in terms of sheer capacity; nor can we build broad support for our priority issues if we require supporters to buy into all kinds of other issues. We try to make meaningful progress forward where we can, and not get stuck in absolutes. We have a bold vision but know that getting results usually means compromise and baby steps.
9. Recruiting. The Public Interest Network (TPIN) seeks to enlist all people in our organization and projects – as staff, members, or active participants. We recruit as many people as we can, in as many ways as we can, as much as we can. Recruitment is a defining characteristic of who we are; it is a basic building block of organizing. And we are always looking for new ways to increase the number of people we reach. We are an equal opportunity everything, and invite anyone and everyone interested in our programs to apply for jobs, sign up as members, or volunteer. We do not discriminate based on race, color, national or ethnic origin, religion, age, sex, disability, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status, or political affiliation.
10. Under-promise, over-deliver. We're goal-oriented and results-oriented, with bottom-up participation, top-down accountability. We try to be disciplined and business-like, we measure our work and emphasize metrics, and our organizational culture is one where the staff is accountable to goals and responsibilities. We regularly share feedback, and brainstorm ways to improve our work. We’re red pencil oriented. We emphasize positive as well as critical feedback, but most would say the dominant organizational culture is more “glass half empty” than “glass half full.” Don’t expect much enthusing about group successes if we fall short of our goals, nor pats on the back for just showing up. No “E”s for effort. “Under-promise, over-deliver” is our mantra.
11. Partnership. TPIN organizations are governed by staff and board members, and function much like any partnership. The most “say-so” goes to those who have worked the longest and contributed the most. TPIN groups and departments make most decisions internally with input from their respective staff. Major policy decisions are made by boards. The key governing board of TPIN is comprised of individuals elected to the board, by the board, from staff and alumni; eligibility is based on merit; and one’s chance of election to the governing board increases with tenure. Staff directors involve, and get input from, all staff on major policy decisions, where the timing allows, at staff meetings devoted to such discussions.
12. Organizational goals alongside program goals. Organizing for power and building the organization are important goals, as important as paradigm-busting, public education, providing member services, or program results. We strive to come out of each campaign stronger than we went into it. So all staff work to help build the organization, not just do their program work. And, since the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, that sometimes means helping build the whole organization, not just your part of it. And sometimes that means that you may be working on something that's not your top program priority, because it's important to TPIN’s overall long-term success. Most typically, this may involve fundraising and recruiting to grow two of our most important assets – money and people: staff, members, and activists. Or it may involve temporary geographic relocation to where a priority need is. (Of course, no one is required to move somewhere that is inconsistent with any constraints that were a condition of their taking a job or assignment, or to take a different position than the one they signed up for, though you might be asked if you are willing to do so, if there’s an urgent need.)
13. Salary & staff development. Our salary levels and salary structure are a conscious decision. They are fair, appropriate, and adhered to. We believe in using our members' and contributors’ money thoughtfully, and paying ourselves with some reference to what average Americans are paid. The organization is funded 71% from small donations; the average donation is less than $25. The salary scale balances level of job responsibility, seniority, meritocracy, and egalitarianism. The highest salary in the organization is appropriate relative to the lowest salary in the organization. The salary of the people with the most seniority is appropriate relative to the person with the least seniority. The salary of the highest ranked people in the jobs with the most responsibility is appropriate relative to lower ranked people in jobs with less responsibility. We offer ample staff benefits. We offer ongoing training for all staff. We value and are proud of our staff retention, staff depth, and our support for staff alumni, in comparison to other groups in the social change “industry.”
14. Bang for the buck. We strive to deliver the most “bang for the buck” in the social change business. We’re frugal; some would say cheap. Maybe this is because a substantial majority of our money comes from small donors and members. If we're traveling for meetings or trainings, we usually fill each hotel room and provide no, or low, per diems; we don't have company credit cards so staff sometimes pay upfront for work expenses and submit receipts for reimbursement; we look for cheap flights; staff take an active role in creating their budget, raising money to fund their work, and are held accountable to their budget and fundraising.
15. Red, purple, blue. We’re a national network, and in touch with international colleagues as well. We do work in all 50 states. New York City, Washington, D.C., and Seattle are great, but let’s face it, we can’t all live there, or even end up there eventually. Which is just another way of saying we love people who want to stay, or go back to where they came from, or go to a new place altogether to spread the word, work, and organize.
16. Making a difference. Everywhere people do work they really believe in, you hear expressions like “it’s not a job, it’s a calling” or “the hardest job you’ll ever love.” Social change work is like that, if it is right for you. And the bottom line is: some social change jobs are not a great job for everybody; but every job is a great job for some somebodies. You just need to decide if you are one of those somebodies. One of our groups uses the slogan: low pay, long hours, enduring rewards. And it’s true, the work can be challenging, but happily it’s not really the scary grind that slogan implies. Most importantly, no one is expected to, or should, work harder than they want to. Most people who choose work to make positive change in the world do so for the “enduring rewards” part of the equation, and are glad they did. “Making a difference,” “believe in what I’m doing,” “making great friends who share my values,” “learning a lot from great training,” and “being given more responsibility than I imagined I would get” – those are typical positive comments about working with TPIN both from those who love it and those who decide it’s not going to be their lifelong vocation.
Having said that, we believe work is, by definition, something you do to accomplish something. The essential question we ask is, are we making a difference, not are we having fun or working with cool people or doing stuff that’s “interesting” or learning a lot. Those are incidental things that hopefully happen often, and are great; but work is work, a means to an end, and we care most about the ends we achieve.
17. Eat dirt if we have to. One specific to be aware of, which is probably obvious but worth saying anyway: some of the work, depending on the job and the time of year, doesn’t happen 9 to 6, Monday through Friday. Volunteers and members tend to meet at night and on weekends; legislators and other decision-makers who we lobby, and their staffs, tend to, as well. We do what it takes and work when we need to work, to get the job done. Once, at a meeting of people hoping that PIRG would not get enough signatures to get a ballot initiative qualified and onto the ballot, the common view in the room was “they’ll never make it, started too late, and they don’t have money.” One guy got up and said, “You don’t understand PIRG. They’ll eat dirt if they have to.” Indeed, we got our initiative on the ballot.
We want to help as many people make a positive difference in the world as possible. So we want everyone to apply to work here. But realistically there are some people for whom we may not be the best fit. Our goal in recruitment is to figure out if you’re a fit for TPIN and if TPIN is a fit for you. We hope you find this list of “core values” helpful in that process. Please ask questions!