I worked with the CALPIRG student group at UCSD for a couple years. I was thrilled with the work we got done, as a single chapter and as part of the larger network. We raised money and did service days at homeless shelters. We progressed environmental goals for the UC system. My favorite project was working in coalition with colleges all over the US to pass legislation through the US congress to reduce student loan interest-rates and get more financial aid. I am so proud of all the volunteers that work with CALPIRG, and the statewide supporters that make all this great work possible.
I was canvassed by CALPIRG in San Diego, signed up to give $20 a month to support Health Care reform, and couldn't be happier with my experience. They don't overload you with fundraising mail or phone calls and they use the money to do great work.
I give $16 a month to this group and I am extremely pleased with their work. My favorite part about this group is not only do they do grassroots work in the community but also have student chapters at universities that promote student activism as well. At UCSD I met someone who interns with them and worked with a bunch of other students to collect 100s of petitions from other students to clean up our oceans. This is an amazing group that I am very proud to be a part of and I am glad they spend their money on activism, and not on advertising.
I gave money to this organization as a UC Berkeley student and have often been asked for donations by their subsidiary, Environment California. Too much, in fact. What distresses me is that I feel they spend more energy trying to raise money than actually doing the work they talk about. I only occasionally hear about them in the press. Compare with Greenpeace or the ACLU who I occasionally see canvassing, but often read about the work they're doing. CalPIRG's canvassers are also especially aggressive. This organization has been around long enough; if they were doing good work, we would have heard about it and people would come to them. Instead I have the impression that the money simply pays the rent for a bunch of well-intentioned bureaucrats.