“Every AA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions”
Generally speaking, as practicing alcoholics, we enjoyed grand financial gestures. The idea of throwing a wad of cash down on the bar and announcing free drinks for all, appealed to us. Pledging a large sum, as I wallowed in emotional negativity during some charity appeal on television, and trying to get out of it later, was the closest I came to any kind of selfless donation.
Unseen, regular contributions were boring. Not worthwhile. We did not get much of a buzz out of that. Certainly, that was my experience of giving.
When we arrived at AA, beaten and broken, some of us could barely scrape together enough for a cup of tea. We had to wait before we could buy a Big Book. When the time came to put some money in the pot, with the best will in the world, a few coppers was all we could afford.
As we got on with the programme, freely given to us, our sponsors guided us into work. Material things became available to us. We were able to put a bit more into the pot. We needed to make up for those who still could afford only a little, (and who was to say that they did not give more as a percentage than we did as wage earners?)
Others of us had lost little materially and were able to put more in the pot from the outset. Did this make us better AAs? Of course not. Nor did it give us any more rights. We all give according to our circumstances. However, there have to be limits. AA can not risk being at the mercy of donations from a few wealthy contributors or outside contributions from non-alcoholics who may start acting as share holders and demanding this must be done or that has to be a certain way. Also, at a group level, excess funds may cause disputes as to what to do with it. So Tradition seven tells us straight, keep a prudent reserve. Surplus is forwarded on into the general service structure.
Some wealthy friends of AA in the early days were able to see clearly that too much money would spoil our aims. They gave us a nominal amount to help at the time, but could see that our organisation would only survive by supporting itself. At the time, AAs were desperately trying to find the money to get the Big Book done, build hospitals, send messengers to all four corners of the earth and generally change the world by Friday week. A meeting with some business acquaintances of Mr. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. led to him organising a dinner attended by some very wealthy and influential businessmen. The early AAs thought their money worries were over. These men did not supply great sums of money, but their experience and support, some becoming non-alcoholic trustees, were highly valuable to our newly formed Fellowship. Their good business sense and general prudence surely saved us from many a costly mistake, and Alcoholics Anonymous is forever grateful to our early business, medical and spiritual friends. (See ’AA Comes of Age’ for the full story.)
From the lessons learned by the struggles of these old-timers we can see that the important thing for us to remember is our obligation to the future. We have taken responsibility for our lives, our recovery and therefore for the continuation of AA. We have made our amends or are making good our debts. We do not and will not look for handouts.
I always need to remember what AA has given me. Tradition five reminds me of our primary purpose. Tradition one reminds me that AA must continue to live or most of us will surely die. This programme is one of action – to ensure that the message is carried on into the future, for the alcoholic who has not yet suffered enough or is yet to be born even. I need to remember Tradition seven. I need to look at what I have been given and what I am ready to give, to ensure that there is a Helpline, literature, where-to-find cards and a solid structure of AA recovery for the shaky and baffled newcomer.
Tradition seven is at the foundation of our service structure. Service is the thing that makes the 12th Step call possible, and unfortunately, without money AA would wither and die. That undoubtedly means a lonely, painful, early death for many who could be saved. Including me!
Therefore, there will always be a great need for members' contributions, the essential services of our fellowship have to be paid for. Money and spirituality become a powerful tool at this point, but more can always be done. We only have to look around at society today to see that binge drinking is epidemic. Many will curb their excesses as they grow up. However, there will be many like us who find themselves lost in that strange world of alcoholism. Our resources will be put to the test.
So, as the treasurer says to Bill W. and other old-timers at a New York meeting in the early days: “Now boys, please go heavier on the hat tonight, will you?” And girls!
Chris S., Road to Recovery, Plymouth