There is no job more ball-shrinklingly awful than canvassing. Therefore, if you are an idealistic college student or recent grad in need of hash money and an ego boost, here are things you should know before going canvassing.
A canvassing office is constantly hiring. If you have a pulse, you're in. They are most active during the summer months, where they recruit college students, the most gullible of prey. Canvassing ads say that over break, anyone can make anywhere from 4000-6000 dollars. But not many make that much, and by not many, we mean nobody. About 60% of people who attend an information session are smart enough to bail out early, and seek some other line of work.
Well, at least we get casual fridays.
The rest are ready to work their first day, known as their "observation day". Half of the employees never make it past that day. After that is a newbie's training. And by training, we mean, beg for money until you reach quota, which is anywhere from 100-150 dollars. As you can expect, this is not a piece of cake... so about 80% fail. Oh, and we forgot to mention that you have to raise this within the next day (if they're lenient), or in 3 days if you're white (more on that bit later). To those who make staff, the average amount of time they stay is 3 weeks. To top it off, only 14% of canvassers on staff report that they would want to do it again next summer.
One of the supposed benefits of being a canvasser is that you get to talk to people about the causes you love. You get to be a real go-getter and enlighten people with knowledge while getting paid! Who wouldn't love that? Wait... a script? Ok I guess it points out great causes... "Become a member?"
A large part of being a good canvasser is memorizing the "rap" (or whatever culturally irrelevant name they give it), a 1-2 minute script that details your cause and lets people know what is going on with the world around them. Ok, we are kidding ourselves, in reality it asks for money and for you to become a member, by giving more money. The rap will become your life for at least 6 hours a day, every day, and that is no joke. You will say that thing over and over again, until it penetrates your soul and sounds ever more fake and tacky. And while it may not seem to make sense to talk about beating terrorists while raising money against child bullying, you're at least killing 2 stones with one bird.
This Dali Lama does seem dangerous! Damn Peruvians!
As a canvasser for prominent Progressive organizations, such as Environment America and the Human Rights Campaign, your job will be to recruit members. What a noble cause, you say, bringing like-minded individuals together on a campaign for justice! Well, let's make this simple:
Membership = money. That's it. This isn't the Rotary Club or the Tea Party, where in the former, old people and cat ladies can do community service and eat in fancy restaurants together. And I don't even want to know what the Tea Party does together. Members of progressive organizations do not receive shiny membership cards, or rewards points and they will definitely not attend any club meetings. Becoming a member simply means that they commit to giving away at least 15 dollars a month (or as the organization calls it, a "reasonable amount") to an nonprofit you just heard about, and all they get is a pretty letter saying that their money is going to their mutual funds. Cause I'm sure they all love Wall Street, right?
Cause Mitt certainly loves his money pit.
Quick, check your skin color! Is it nice and peachy? Congrats! You may move on to the next section with no worries! If it isn't, you can also skip ahead, but we advise that you don't. Still here? Good, then we have something to break to you: More than 80% of the people who make it to staff are white. And this isn't even in Alabama or Mississippi, where being the wrong shade of white isn't tolerated.
Guess who's not in the club?
No, this also happens in metropolitan areas such as San Diego, California, where many shades of people try out for the job and are accepted, or at least for as long as it takes to shoot stock images for their website.
And yes, this is a stock image from their website.
Even in a place like Santa Monica, a white hipster in dreads is a better money-maker then a tiny Belizan girl pleading desperately for help. If you are a person of color, people might (will) stare, and act (scream at you to stop helping the Jacksonians) suspicious. It's inevitable. Here's what Damon, a black male canvasser, said in the book, Activism Inc. by Dana Fisher, "I've always felt that I had to be a little bit more than the average person if I wanted to succeed. I've seen folks that are afraid when you get to the door, just by looking at you.. and also I think a lot of people aren't even comfortable with giving money to an African American male at the door." Cause every time a white person knocks on your door, it's always good news.
Oh gosh! Firewood! It was getting chilly!
Alright, so you're OK with becoming a living script willing to convert others with your words and telling them to hand over their hard earned money. After a short while, it is possible to move up the corporate ladder and become promoted to field manager, the person in charge of the canvassers.. A "lucky" few even get to become canvass directors and run the whole darn place. At this point, every night they are expected to host social events for the newbies. No biggy. It's even kind of cute. Sometimes sacrifices must be gained. But 1 month of late nights becomes 3 months, then 9. Soon you're clocking out 3 hours later for years on end. The heck! Who keeps ripping out the months?!
Stop it Juan! You're Fired!
Canvass directors tend to work up to 80 -100 hours a week or about $25,000 a year, but usually only get paid for 60. "How do their bosses get away with this?", you may ask. Well, canvass directors are asked to do a lot of things for their organization, such as running phone banks and writing letters to members of Congress. They are only paid for the time they are canvassing. The rest, is volunteer work, baby!
But it's all worth it, till they find themselves in a cycle of work-home-work every.. single...day. And that includes weekends of work, and time for community-organizing events (for a community they hardly know) that they will most likely lie about to avoid going.
IT'S TERMINAL DAMMIT! SEE YOU MONDAY!
So, for you guys and gals considering this job: are you married or have a special someone in your life? Well, let's just say you won't be seeing him or her in a while.. unless you like staring at them while they sleep. In which case, you'll be getting a good 6 hours of them a day.
She can't say no to everything now...
Are you a fervent environmentalist, checking your Treehugger iPhone app every hour and riding your bike to school even though it's ten miles away? Did seeing this ad stuck on a tree trunk make you spasm with excitement?
This is definitely NSFW!
Hmm.. not to cut your wet dream off too short, but it's very likely that the cause you wanted to campaign for is not the one you're getting. One month it is fighting to end agricultural subsidies and the next, we're back to trying to save impoverished kids in third-world countries. This creates a situation in which people are commonly canvassing for causes they hardly even know or care about. Yes, there is an informational binder in the corner of the office, but even this is mostly a collection of talking points and cute pictures of the children (or turtles) that you're helping.
So if you've been trained by your school that "critical thinking skills" are important, and that nothing should ever be accepted at face value, be ready to throw those skills out the window. When it comes to canvassing, everyone is expected to accept the progressive organization's stance on the issues completely.
We aren't going to lie, this is the hardest concept to explain because it's something you just feel. The field managers and canvass directors seem too enthusiastic about the causes; every morning before work, there is a pep talk, where fundraising goals are discussed and canvassers are made to feel as if they are the most bestest people in the world for supporting the cause, whether it is stopping child bullying or something more controversial like banning plastic bags. And it is impossible to know whether they really are that in agreement with the cause-of-the-month, or they are holding back from smashing the perky girls face in (We really can't tell.) Goddamnit! Why can't we just raise money for a cause we all actually care about, like helping abused puppies? We all love puppies, right?