The US Public Interest Research Group (also known as PIRG) is a political lobby non-profit organization in the United States and Canada, composed of self-governing affiliates at the state and province level. Its fundraising arm is the Fund for Public Interest Research ("the Fund").
"U.S. PIRG is an advocate for the public interest. When consumers are cheated, or the voices of ordinary citizens are drowned out by special interest lobbyists, U.S. PIRG 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. U.S. PIRG's mission is to deliver persistent, result-oriented public interest activism that protects our health, encourages a fair, sustainable economy, and fosters responsive, democratic government".
MPIRG (Minnesota) was the first state PIRG to incorporate (on February 17, 1971), and today is one of the few to remain independent from USPIRG and the Fund. Following the lead of Minnesota, students in Oregon (OSPIRG) and then Massachusetts (MASSPIRG), and finally many other states and Canadian provinces incorporated chapters of PIRG. The PIRGs are responsible for many of the Bottle Bills across the country.
After students organized on college campuses for nearly 10 years, the different State PIRGs established the D.C. arm U.S. PIRG to advocate for change on the National level. Nearly simultaneously, the PIRGs founded the Fund For Public Interest Research (FFPIR), the fundraising and citizen outreach arm of the PIRGs. The Fund hires canvassers to go door-to-door or stand on street corners and fundraise for their perspective organizations by signing up members and collecting donations (or membership dues). There are roughly 60 Fund canvass offices across the country.
The citizen membership of the PIRGs is largely built through fund raising door-to-door, or in high-traffic public areas. The Fund for Public Interest Research Group, the national canvassing organization created by the State PIRGs, works to build membership for several other national non-profit lobby groups, including: the State PIRGs, the State Environment groups, the Human Rights Campaign and the Sierra Club. Canvassers are often college students during the summer when the canvass operation is expanded, while canvassers generally have a more varied background in the few cities where there is a canvass during the non-summer months. Canvass offices vary drastically in size depending on location and time of year with the largest having between 75 and 100 employees during summer months.
The Fund and the telemarketing centers operate on behalf of all of the state PIRG and Environment groups (excepting MPIRG NHPIRG and NYPIRG). There are currently three telemarketing locations (Portland OR, Boston, MA and Sacramento, CA with the Los Angeles, CA telemarketing center having been shut down following a labor dispute). These call centers have a fluid workforce similar to the door and street canvass.
Finally, the individual state PIRGs apply for and receive grants from a variety of different non-profit foundations, along with receiving disbursals of funding from grants received federally. PIRGs avoid any funding directly from corporations, believing such funding would restrict their autonomy.
The Fund has created a website, Canvassing Works, to respond to some of the criticisms raised by the book. The site includes testimony by former Fund staff who have moved into leading roles in other progressive organizations and other progressive leaders, including U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope, Dr. Woody Holton (Associate Professor of American history at the University of Richmond), and Randy Hayes of the Rainforest Action Network.
The organization that encompasses all PIRG, "Environment," and spin-off groups is known as NAOPI, or the National Association of Organizations in the Public Interest. This larger, umbrella organization plays a coordinating role.
The highest-profile PIRGs are CalPIRG (California PIRG), MASSPIRG (Massachusetts PIRG), MPIRG (Minnesota PIRG), NYPIRG (New York PIRG), and OSPIRG (Oregon State PIRG). Outside the United States, PIRGs can also be found in Canadian provinces, such as Ontario, Canada. Canadian PIRGs operate on a different model then U.S. PIRGs. Canadian PIRGs are student run and the majority of their funding comes directly from students. Most, if not all, Canadian PIRG's operate on a consensus decision making model. Canadian PIRGs are independent of each other although some efforts have been made towards collaboration.