Sustainability 101: CALPIRG Knockin’ on My Door

by on August 15, 2011 · 14 comments

in California, Organizing, Popular

The other night, after dark, there was a knock on my door. I thought it was a friend, but lo and behold, a young woman with a clipboard. I thought, no, not another person with a clipboard asking for donations or to buy a subscription to the UT.

I admit I may have been a bit brusque with my usual “I’m sorry, I’m not interested in buying anything… ” and she said, “I’m not selling anything,” or something to that effect. I then informed her that I wasn’t able to make any donations. I don’t remember what she said after that, but within the next moment or two she said she was from CALPIRG.

While she was polite and smiling for most of this exchange, when I informed her I wasn’t interested, I did detect a narrowing of her eyes combined with what I translated as an incredulous expression, as if to communicate: how could you possibly NOT be interested in hearing about CALPIRG?

So, after I closed the door, turned the porch light back off, and sat on the couch, slightly seething about yet another in a series of after-dark-door-to-door barrages to donate to or join the ranks of various organizations (Although the Jehovah’s Witnesses do generally come by during the day, and more specifically on weekend mornings.), I made a note to contact CALPIRG the next day to complain and have them take me off their call list.

Then, I googled CALPIRG, as honestly, I couldn’t remember who they were and what their mission was. Once I’d reached their website at, the young woman’s surprise at my response to her organization made more sense… I mean who wouldn’t want to be “Standing Up To Powerful Interests” as their website’s subtitle reads?

Here is their mission statement:

“When consumers are cheated or the voices of ordinary citizens are drowned out by special interest lobbyists, CALPIRG speaks up and takes action. We uncover threats to public health and well-being and fight to end them, using the time-tested tools of investigative research, media exposés, grassroots organizing, advocacy and litigation. CALPIRG’s mission is to deliver persistent, result-oriented public interest activism that protects consumers, encourages a fair, sustainable economy, and fosters responsive, democratic government.”

And a fine mission statement this is…

I do plan to spend more time at the site learning what all they’ve accomplished as well as what they’re working on now. Nevertheless, I still do NOT want their representatives to stop by my door after dark—or during the day, either… no matter how well-meaning they are.

The fact that this is a tried-and-true grassroots style of getting the word out aside, and while this particular CALPIRG enthusiast was polite, there have been other entities and their reps that haven’t been. I am reminded, too, of the GreenPeacers slogging up and down Newport Ave., especially during the Farmer’s Markets, hawking their ideological wares with such dialogue stoppers as “Don’t you care about the environment?” or “Why wouldn’t you want to save the baby seals?” But I digress…

I phoned CALPIRG’s Sacramento office to ask about this, and to request that they take me off their list. I didn’t say I was writing an article about it, and wonder if I had said as much, whether I would receive a different response. The person with whom I spoke was polite and did say that it wasn’t usual to have someone canvass after dark. She requested my contact information and indicated that she would inform the local office not to return to my apartment. I did learn that their summer campaign is in full-swing, and that door-to-door canvassing is their usual means to inform the public. I assume that this also signifies it’s one of their usual methods to obtain donations and memberships…

So, yes, I am interested in CALPIRG and its mission, but I’d rather approach them than they me.

I would be interested in knowing other people’s experiences with door-to-door canvassing as well as CALPIRG itself.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

doug porter August 15, 2011 at 9:44 am

There have been ongoing questions about CALPIRG’s fundraising efforts, including lawsuits that allege that young canvassers are being exploited. There are two sides to this story, however. here’s an older article from that gives insight ito both sides, even if it is a little of date on the particulars it cities.


Terrie August 16, 2013 at 4:39 pm

Thank you, Doug.

As to the comment below about signs, I live in a building that doesn’t want us to post them on our doors. Perhaps I should ask the management to post a general one.



dude August 15, 2011 at 11:37 am

I still don’t understand why people who don’t want people knocking on their door just don’t put up a visible ‘no trespassing’ sign? Most organizations familiar with the law will not set foot on your property providing the sign is visible from the street.


Terrie Leigh Relf August 15, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Funny you should mention this, Dude, as it came to mind. I used to have one, but it was ignored. . .I will probably put up a new one.


Em August 15, 2011 at 12:52 pm

I think canvassing is really taking away from the true meaning and missions of those organizations who do canvass. Now-a-days Greenpeace is known as the org to avoid rather than the org who takes down corporation giants around the world. And CalPIRG even has hate groups on FB because of how aggressive they are on school campuses. Rather than people wanting to support and spread the word about what they are about, they are targeted as nuisances.

To get your word out, I’d say putting up a billboard/posters with something eye-catching like Greenpeace does should be the solution rather than paying hundreds of canvassers to go out and unintentionally downgrade your organization.

Plus, anyone who wants a legit job with a non-profit almost always has to canvass first and that turns off a lot of youngins with a lot of talent ready to make a difference.


emeth August 15, 2011 at 1:36 pm

you said ; So, yes, I am interested in CALPIRG and its mission, but I’d rather approach them than they me.

but… without her showing up at your doorstep you would never have found the organisation or looked for it in the first place.

That is why she comes by. Many organisations cant afford big marketing on things like tv and so on.

A personal approach works the best. The Jehovah’s Witmesses you also mentioned are the best example of that. They are the christian denomination with the highest growth rate.. year after year according to the pew forum followed by the Mormons.

While lots of other denominations lost many followers.


Kevin Schaefer August 12, 2012 at 8:25 am

Dear Emeth,

Just an FYI, neither the Watchtower Organization nor the Mormons are actual “christian denomination(s)”, as their doctrines very greatly from those which define Christianity.


Ernie McCray August 15, 2011 at 3:49 pm

CALPIRG visited me recently. I’ve basically trusted them over the years so when the young woman said where she was from I just asked: “Okay, what is it going to cost me?” And we chatted while I wrote the check.


Jay August 15, 2011 at 4:08 pm

We gave at the office or It’s in the mail or Don’t call us we’ll call you.

Then we sit back and say “Got rid of another one”.


Maria August 15, 2012 at 2:16 pm

From a former canvasser (I canvassed with CALPIRG in 1999 and subsequently volunteered in their college chapter for one year):
When you are a young woman going off to college, you may be driven like me, and many of my fellow canvassers, to make a difference in the world. Say at 18, 19 or 20 years-old, you have a lot of energy, little experience and all the will in the world to (start learning how to) make that difference. You run into a CALPIRG hiring posting and you sign-up to get that message of “let’s make a difference on this important environemental or consumer issue”, getting people like you Terrie, aware of the organization we represent, aware of the issue we are canvassing for, like an environmentally or consumer-harmful law.

We, the canvassers, are also taking a first step in learning the ropes of making a difference in the world. Canvassing we learn that this implies a firm commitment; long & hard working hours; dealing with all sorts of people (polite people, indifferent people, rude people) and keeping our head up no matter what. We learn that to make a difference in the world, like for any other enterprise, you also need money (not only to pay the team of canvassers, but to put people on the hill to protect consumer and environmental interests, to fund a budget for policy analysis staff & overhead costs).

The summer canvassing experience opened the door to the college campus chapter.
That Fall and Spring I volunteered on an ATM-fee ban campaign in San Francisco and got to give a press conference, then was offered an internship in their D.C. office for the following summer.

It was intense, and like any job, had its perks and its nuisances, but what was important was what we were getting done: getting the word out in the community, giving information, obtaining commitments, and training a lot of young people that could otherwise be idle during the summer. 13 years later I am an international consultant on development issues and grateful to have had the experience to have gotten the word out home-by-home in those canvassing days, it was a giving experience in every sense of the word.


D October 8, 2012 at 9:35 pm

9pm and two kids/students just knocked on my door. Poor kids should not be out this late knocking on random peoples doors in the DARK… Unless its Halloween and they are escorted by a parent or chaperone. Door to door activism is extremely unprofessional and I believe it will deter people from your organization.



Myra May 13, 2013 at 11:12 am

They always solicit door-to-door after dark.


Stan August 15, 2013 at 6:07 am

A young woman wearing a CALPIRG t-shirt and carrying a clipboard knocked on my door. I told her I conduct NO business with people coming door to door. She said she just wanted to thank me for my recent donation. I reiterated my policy; she told me I could be put on CALPIRG’s no-canvassing list if I became a member. I told her I was going to close the door, then I did. She kept talking to the closed door, which I reopened and told her to get off my porch, and that I will never donate to her organization again. And I won’t!


Monica August 29, 2014 at 9:51 pm

Tonight, a young man from Calpirg approached while I was sitting on my front porch with a neighbor enjoying a very rare 6:00 pm at home unwinding from a terribly difficult week over a beer. I politely let him know that I didn’t want to engage. I was exhausted but would check out the website….four more times…nicely but now firm…. No, thank you. I am sympathetic and vote with my dollars. But as I have said many times now, I do not wish to discuss this with you….I’m exhausted.

Then he starts with argumentative scare tactics …even if you are vegan, if she (points to my neighbor) eats a hamburger, you could get some super bug from her,….and on and on. Dude! I said no! But I’ll check out your organization. As he was walking away, I said to my neighbor teasingly, don’t eat burgers and don’t get me sick to break the awkwardness…

Dude COMES BACK and calls me a f$)ing b@itch and an @$sshole!!!!!!! I kid you not.. Verbatim and said other stuff besides but I was too shocked to process the rest….

I am still in shock….

What kind of org pays people to harass me at home then hurl obscenities when I don’t do what they want? Credit collectors ….. Bad enough… Which is why I never buy anything on credit that I can’t pay off immediately (except the dang mortgage)…. But a purportedly “do good” org?! I’ll never forget this org or how awful this experience was….


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