People who leave a stove out to rot on their curb while they remodel homes are not, as a rule, the most concerned with the environment. I learned this while canvassing for the Sierra Club two summers ago. I've never been a particular advocate for the environment because I am unable to conceptualize total global decimation, but I am an advocate for having more than change in my piggy bank. That's how I was enticed by a Craigslist ad promising anyone with a resume A Great Summer Job While Saving the Environment! When I asked the overzealous human prawn who interviewed me if this was some horrible door-knocking gig, his reply was: "It's not horrible. Who told you it was horrible? They lied. Canvassing is the most revolutionary thing you can do!"
I probably should have known after he said "revolutionary" that working for this grassroots environmental group was like Communist Russia. Everyone was expected to happily do their job and participate in implicitly mandatory after-work camaraderie. But we got paid much more than the Ruskies, so in that way it was nothing like communist Russia at all.
The day-to-day work was not what I expected. Although we did spend a lot of time cheering for trees and getting high, there was also a remarkable amount of conniving doublespeak to learn and implement. The first thing we learned is the carefully worded pitch you give at 100 doors a day.
"Hi, I'm Zoe with the Sierra Club, the nation's oldest and largest grassroots environmental group..." I went on autopilot right away. This was sometimes a problem when people had questions about things other than where to sign. Once, a man listened to my pitch and then asked me what global warming really was. Like I had the inside scoop.
Most of the money we took in never affected anything but our own paychecks. When I was doing it, we got a $300 weekly paycheck if we raised $300. Anything above that quota got us 30 percent commission. I once made $1060 in a week thanks to a particularly rich neighborhood full of hybrid vehicles.
The reason people gave me money wasn't just guilt; Sierra Club canvassers are wording champions. The urban studies grad students who run the training sessions teach three carefully-worded lessons: memorization of the pitch, second tries, and bump-ups.
This is a bump-up: "It's great that you want to get involved! But if you could make that $50, it would make that much more of a difference in our campaign." I once bumped a guy up from $250 to $500 that way. We also had thousand-dollar-Thursdays, when everyone was encouraged to ask for $1000 once the giver had decided to give. There was a rumor that my boss had actually gotten one, but I don’t know.
The largest percentage of the money made goes to infrastructure: canvassers' paychecks, mailings, and clipboards. Canvassers got a 30 percent cut of the money they raised above and beyond their weekly quota, and the quota was roughly equal to our weekly pay. I don't know how this money benefitted the trees or the global warming, but it helped me buy magazines and gasoline for the summer.