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The Greater Goods | By Eve Kushner

Clif Bar

For the first nine years after Gary Erickson founded Clif Bar in Berkeley in 1992, no one told employees to volunteer for good causes. Spontaneously and informally, they chose to do so, raising money by cycling in the AIDS ride or hiking to raise funds for breast cancer research. This community service tendency emerged organically, like a meme, drawing on the culture of this energy bar company.

In 2001, some employees decided that it was time to formalize these widespread volunteer efforts, calling the resulting program Project 2080. That number represents the total hours that a full-time employee works annually. If employees collectively donate 2080 hours of their time each year, in accordance with project goals, it’s as if one employee is volunteering full-time. Clif Bar has about 150 employees, so each needs to volunteer about 14 hours annually to meet the goal.

“We try not to set mins and maxes or a lot of restrictions around the program, because we really want employees to own it,” says Thao Pham, director of human resources for Clif Bar. “It’s theirs.”

And they do step up to the plate, with 99 percent participating in this entirely employee-run program. On average, each employee gives 20.6 hours annually. Since 2001, employees have given a total of 13,000 hours to some 50 local nonprofits.

Lest you think employees spend their weekends climbing mountains for the greater good, you should know they do this volunteering on weekdays between 9 and 5. Pham insists that this doesn’t create direct conflicts with energy bar–related work. If an employee wants to help out Meals on Wheels, for instance, she will find someone to cover her work, even going so far as to ask a manager to push back a deadline for the sake of the volunteer activity.

“Community service has always been and will always be important to who we are as a company,” says Pham, who notes that owner Erickson was behind this volunteer mission from the get-go. She says Clif Bar’s financial success makes it important for the company to be a model for others. As the Clif Bar Web site says, “Serving our community and supporting important causes is not a by-product of our business. Rather, it is one of the reasons we are in business.”


Elbow grease: Clif Bar employees pitch in. Photo courtesy Clif Bar & Co.

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