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"Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting,
declining outside contributions."
SELF-SUPPORTING alcoholics? Who ever heard of such a thing?
Yet we find that's what we have to be. This principle is
telling evidence of the profound change that A.A. has wrought
in all of us. Everybody knows that active alcoholics scream
that they have no troubles money can't cure. Always, we've
had our hands out. Time out of mind we've been dependent
upon somebody, usually money-wise. When a society composed
entirely of alcoholics says it's going to pay its bills,
that's really news.
no A.A. Tradition had the labor pains this one did. In early
times, we were all broke. When you add to this the habitual
supposition that people ought to give money to alcoholics
trying to stay sober, it can be understood why we thought
we deserved a pile of folding money. What great things A.A.
would be able to do with it! But oddly enough, people who
had money thought otherwise. They figured that it was high
time we now--sober--paid our own way. So our Fellowship
stayed poor because it had to.
was another reason for our collective poverty. It was soon
apparent that while alcoholics would spend lavishly on Twelfth
Step cases, they had a terrific aversion to dropping money
into a meeting-place hat for group purposes. We were astounded
to find that we were as tight as the bark on a tree. So
A.A., the movement, started and stayed broke, while its
individual members waxed prosperous.
are certainly all-or-nothing people. Our reactions to money
prove this. As A.A. emerged from its infancy into adolescence,
we swung from the idea that we needed vast sums of money
to the notion that A.A. shouldn't have any. On every lip
were the words "You can't mix A.A. and money. We shall
have to separate the spiritual from the material."
We took this violent new tack because here and there members
had tied to make money out of their A.A. connections, and
we feared we'd be exploited. Now and then, grateful benefactors
had endowed clubhouses, and as a result there was sometimes
outside interference in our affairs. We had been presented
with a hospital, and almost immediately the donor's son
became its principal patient and would-be manager. One A.A.
group was given five thousand dollars to do with what it
would. The hassle over that chunk of money played havoc
for years. Frightened by these complications, some groups
refused to have a cent in their treasuries.
these misgivings, we had to recognize the fact that A.A.
had to function. Meeting places cost something. To save
whole areas from turmoil, small offices had to be set up,
telephones installed, and a few full-time secretaries hired.
Over many protests, these things were accomplished. We saw
that if they weren't, the man coming in the door couldn't
get a break. These simple services would require small sums
of money which we could and would pay ourselves. At last
the pendulum stopped swinging and pointed straight at Tradition
Seven as it reads today.
this connection, Bill likes to tell the following pointed
story. He explains that when Jack Alexander's Saturday Evening
Post piece broke in 1941, thousands of frantic letters from
distraught alcoholics and their families hit the Foundation*
letterbox in New York. "Our office staff," Bill
says, "consisted of two people: one devoted secretary
and myself. How could this landslide of appeals be met?
We'd have to have some more full-time help, that was sure.
So we asked the A.A. groups for voluntary contributions.
Would they send us a dollar a member a year? Otherwise this
heartbreaking mail would have to go unanswered.
my surprise, the response of the groups was slow. I got
mighty sore about it. Looking at this avalanche of mail
one morning at the office, I paced up and down ranting how
irresponsible and tightwad my fellow members were. Just
then an old acquaintance stuck a tousled and aching head
in the door. He was our prize slippee. I could see he had
an awful hangover. Remembering some of my own, my heart
filled with pit. I motioned him to my inside cubicle and
produced a five-dollar bill. As my total income was thirty
dollars a week at the time, this was a fairly large donation.
Lois really needed the money for groceries, but that didn't
stop me. The intense relief on my friend's face warmed my
heart. I felt especially virtuous as I thought of all the
ex-drunks who wouldn't even send the Foundation a dollar
apiece, and here I was gladly making a five-dollar investment
to fix a hangover.
meeting that night was at New York's old 24th Street Clubhouse.
During the intermission, the treasurer gave a timid talk
on how broke the club was. (That was in the period when
you couldn't mix money and A.A.) But finally he said it--the
landlord would put us out if we didn't pay up. He concluded
his remarks by saying, "Now boys, please go heavier
on the hat tonight, will you?"
heard all this quite plainly, as I was piously trying to
convert a newcomer who sat next to me. The hat came in my
direction, and I reached into my pocket. Still working on
my prospect, I fumbled and came up with a fifty-cent piece.
Somehow it looked like a very big coin. Hastily, I dropped
it back and fished out a dime, which clinked thinly as I
dropped it in the hat. Hats never got folding money in those
I woke up. I who had boasted my generosity that morning
was treating my own club worse than the distant alcoholics
who had forgotten to send the Foundation their dollars.
I realized that my five-dollar gift to the slippee was an
ego-feeding proposition, bad for him and bad for me. There
was a place in A.A. where spirituality and money would mix,
and that was in the hat!"
is another story about money. One night in 1948, the trustees
of the Foundation were having their quarterly meeting. The
agenda discussion included a very important question. A
certain lady had died. When her will was read, it was discovered
she had left Alcoholics Anonymous in trust with the Alcoholic
Foundation a sum of ten thousand dollars. The question was:
Should A.A. take the gift?
a debate we had on that one! The Foundation was really hard
up just then; the groups weren't sending in enough for the
support of the office; we had been tossing in all the book
income and even that hadn't been enough. The reserve was
melting like snow in springtime. We needed that ten thousand
dollars. "Maybe," some said, "the groups
will never fully support the office. We can't let it shut
down; it's far too vital. Yes, let's take the money. Let's
take all such donations in the future. We're going to need
came the opposition. They pointed out that the Foundation
board already knew of a total of half a million dollars
set aside for A.A. in the wills of people still alive. Heaven
only knew how much there was we hadn't heard about. If outside
donations weren't declined, absolutely cut off, then the
Foundation would one day become rich. Moreover, at the slightest
intimation to the general public from our trustees that
we needed money, we could become immensely rich. Compared
to this prospect, the ten thousand dollars under consideration
wasn't much, but like the alcoholic's first drink it would,
if taken, inevitably set up a disastrous chain reaction.
Where would that land us? Whoever pays the piper is apt
to call the tune, and if the A.A. Foundation obtained money
from outside sources, its trustees might be tempted to run
things without reference to the wishes of A.A. as a while.
Relieved of responsibility, every alcoholic would shrug
and say, "Oh, the Foundation is wealthy--why should
I bother?" The pressure of that fat treasury would
surely tempt the board to invent all kinds of schemes to
do good with such funds, and so divert A.A. from its primary
purpose. The moment that happened, our Fellowship's confidence
would be shaken. The board would be isolated, and would
fall under heavy attack of criticism from both A.A. and
the public. These were the possibilities, pro and con.
our trustees wrote a bright page of A.A. history. They declared
for the principle that A.A. must always stay poor. Bare
running expenses plus a prudent reserve would henceforth
be the Foundation's financial policy. Difficult as it was,
they officially declined that ten thousand dollars, and
adopted a formal, airtight resolution that all such future
gifts would be similarly declined. At that moment, we believe,
the principle of corporate poverty was firmly and finally
embedded in A.A. tradition.
these facts were printed, there was a profound reaction.
To people familiar with endless drives for charitable funds,
A.A. presented a strange and refreshing spectacle. Approving
editorials here and abroad generated a wave of confidence
in the integrity of Alcoholics Anonymous. They pointed out
that the irresponsible had become responsible, and that
by making financial independence part of its tradition,
Alcoholics Anonymous had revived an ideal that its era had
almost forgotten. * In 1954, the name of the Alcoholic Foundation,
Inc., was changed to the General Service Board of Alcoholics
Anonymous, Inc., and the Foundation office is now the General
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