The long form of this Tradition gives some very specific instruction regarding group finances. There are several priority pieces of business that should be handled at the inception of any new 12 Step group. The long form warns of potential problems regarding money if the group does not take some preemptive action. The group should initially make a rough guess as to what its monthly expenses are or may be. The group should then decide how many months expenses should be retained as a prudent reserve. This amount can be adjusted at a later business meeting as the group begins to get a more accurate perspective on its finances. This prudent reserve should be both adequate and modest. We must remember that the group belongs to God, therefore, so does the money collected by the group. Money is one of God’s tools for exercising His will. It does not serve God’s purposes by sitting in a bank in the name of we money-grubbing addicts. Most groups see 3 months as more than adequate. It is a way of seeing that the group continues in the face of surprises. Some of these may include: loss of lease, rent being raised, downward fluctuation in attendance to name a few.
The new group should decide what it will do with the overages before the prudent reserve is met. This way there will be no arguments about what is to be done with excess funds. This Tradition is clear that whatever the decision of the group conscience, these funds should serve the purpose of carrying the groups message to the addict who still suffers (reference Tradition 5). The long form warns us that there is a tendency to argue amongst ourselves over money that has not already been ear-marked for a particular purpose. Our opinions can vary widely about the most effective method of carrying the message. Money which has not already been assigned to a specific 12th Step task agreed upon by group conscience, can destroy our unity.
There are many ways in which the group’s financial assets can aid in carrying the message. Some groups put aside scholarship money to cover the travel expenses of sending a representative(s) to business meetings of the fellowship. Some groups set aside funds to purchase a reserve of literature to give the newcomer. Some groups set aside funds to sponsor special events. Some common events that serve our primary purpose might include a 12 Step retreat, a speaker conference or even a 12 Step workshop. These are just a few examples that happen to be popular. Giving funds in excess of rent to our landlord, making charitable contributions to other non-profit organizations, paying for speakers that are not from a 12 Step experience (therapist, ministers, etc.); these are all ways groups commonly violate this Tradition. All our expenditures should aid or better fit our group to carry the message, “We had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps.”, not therapy, not religion.
Frequently business meetings – which we call “Group Conscience” – allow us to change the purpose of future contributions. Whatever the decision there, it should never affect the purposes of existing funds, unless such funds do not already have a purpose. A good fallback, when the group’s plans fail, is to forward such moneys to the ISO. They can always put it to good use. God’s money should never be retained unless there is a specific goal and date for achieving it. So, sending money to the ISO is always a good “Plan B.”
That being said, we have a responsibility to the larger fellowship. Most groups decide to send their excess funds to the ISO. Some divide their excess funds between the ISO and the local intergroup. They too have bills to pay. Rent, electricity, phone, website expenses, payroll, etc.; we must remember that without them we probably would not have found recovery. The money we send them is both well deserved and well invested. Funds sent to the ISO can be earmarked for a special purpose(s). A good example might be to send A.A. Big Books to men/women who are incarcerated. The ISO’s job, overall, is to facilitate, for the individual groups, the carrying of the the 12 Step message. The individual groups can also choose not to financially support a service entity within the S.A.A. fellowship. This is done most often when the member group does not approve of the actions being taken by such an entity (reference the 7th Concept of World Service, A.A. World Service Manual).
In the realm of money, it is most important for the individual groups to hold on to as little as possible. As mentioned before, these funds belong to God and do not serve His purposes sitting in a bank. More than this, minimal funds allow the group to stay more attuned to God’s will. Whatever the decision of the group conscience regarding funds for specific plans to carry the message, we know if it is God’s will by whether or not the funds show up. When the group conscience decides to send a representative to the annual conference and the individual can only do so if he/she receives financial assistance, then we know God’s will by whether the money appears… or does not appear. If we wish to put on a retreat and the funds never materialize, then we know that it wasn’t God’s will, or at least, not yet. If our landlord decides to raise the rent beyond our time tested ability to pay, then God is definitely trying to tell us something. Perhaps He wants us in a different neighborhood where the rent would be cheaper. That’s probably where we’re needed the most anyway. Perhaps God is bringing attention to our lack of 12th Step work. Whatever the situation, an excessive financial buffer only enables a group/fellowship, which might be unhealthy, to continue in its unhealthy ways.
This Tradition came to us through John D. Rockefeller. Here is the story of its origins from A.A.’s pamphlet “Self Support: Where Money and Spirituality Mix.”
Bill W., A.A.’s co-founder, and some of the early A.A. members initially felt the only way for the Fellowship to survive was to solicit financial support from philanthropic institutions or individuals outside A.A. These “high rollers” could then supply the funds the Fellowship would need to carry out the vital Twelfth Step work the early A.A.s envisioned — to bankroll the army of paid missionaries, the chain of A.A. hospitals, and the library of books they were certain to write.
One potential A.A. patron, however, when approached by the pioneering members for money, instead helped to lay the groundwork for A.A.’s Tradition of self-support: “I am afraid that money will spoil this thing,” said John D. Rockefeller Jr.,
while at the same time endorsing the work of the fledgling Fellowship.
This marked a turning point in A.A. history and, as the reality of Mr. Rockefeller’s statement sank in and A.A. members began to see the truth in the old cliche, “Who pays the piper, calls the tune,” the seed of the Seventh Tradition took root.
Twelfth Step work has very few costs. Most of those are paid out-of-pocket by the individuals doing the Twelfth Step work. At its core it is simple: one addict who has been spiritually awakened by working the Twelve Steps sits down with the newcomer who wants and needs our solution badly, and shows this newcomer how he/she did the work. The expenses might include gas money or bus fare. But there are other expenses. That newcomer had to make a phone call to arrange the meeting. But where did he find that phone number? Nowadays most of us find it on the S.A.A. website. However, we have also made the effort to see that our help-lines are published in the local white and yellow pages. We may have taken out small ads in the classifieds. The help-line costs money. The ads cost money. Listings cost money. Websites cost money. Add to all of those the rent our group pays plus other expenditures, and we begin to get the picture. These are not all huge expenses, but expenses just the same.
Most groups collect funds to pay its bills by passing a basket at the end of the meeting. What the individual puts in there is up to his/her own conscience. Most of us gladly put in what we can. This is one way we can express our gratitude for having been freely provided a solution to a problem which was killing us. Sometimes we pass the basket a second time to collect funds for a special project.
We must be careful not to accept donations from outside sources. We run into significant danger if we do. Being dependent on others for our existence might put us in a position of obligation. This could change the tune of our message. We can’t tell the newcomer that we had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps and drinking Dr. Pepper. It would not be truthful. While this may seem ridiculous, when our landlord (perhaps a church) allows us to skimp on rent, we might feel obligated to change our message to one of a more religious tone. How much damage could this do to those who might believe differently? How many might die because they feel they cannot in good conscience make a religious change in order to recover?
We should not have to organize special fund raisers in order to pay our bills. If we cannot pay them out of our regular method of collection, then we must look at what God is trying to tell us. We should ask ourselves some very important questions. Is the group’s meeting hall appropriate? We should not be in a hall which will hold 100+ when our greatest attendance has been no more than 15. Is our group’s location appropriate? We shouldn’t be in a part of town where the rent is the highest. Are we spending money on superfluous items? We do not need leather covered recliners for our meeting room. Is our group healthy? Are we carrying the message? Are people staying with us? Are they staying sober? Are our members increasing in humility such that they express their gratitude when the basket is passed?
No one member or small clique of members should be keeping our group afloat. The contributions, while not always equal, should be reasonable from one member to the next. A group that consistently has trouble paying its bills is one that is probably not healthy. A few members regularly “bailing out” such a group only enable a lack of spiritual health that should be addressed. Again, we look at our meeting venue: Is it appropriate; Are there less expensive venues that would serve the same purpose? Is the group spending money frivolously? We look at meeting attendance – are we doing all we can to carry the message? God uses money to correct our course. We only rob Him of that opportunity by footing the bill every time the group needs a financial hero.
We have experienced dangers from situations like this. We are people who’s egos can swell with the slightest excuse. One of the ways this manifests is a sense of entitlement. We have found ourselves thinking that our opinion carries extra weight in our business meetings. We start to believe we deserve special consideration by the rest of the group. We very quickly become the proverbial “bleeding deacon.” It is easy for us to see how we can become beholding to those outside our fellowship for financial contributions. That seems an obvious pitfall. The political jockeying of our own members is a more subtle trap for which we must be vigilant. We remember always that our spiritual goal in this fellowship is to become one of many. Distinguishing ourselves from the crowd only puts our respective egos in charge. We’re headed for a fall when we try to stand above the rest.
There is a flip side. Let us recall, in the 1930’s members were putting a dollar in the basket as it was passed. Such funds went a lot further then, than they do now. The cost of goods, monthly rent, electricity, phone service; all of these things have felt the effects of inflation. Today many of us assure ourselves by putting $2 in the basket, thinking we’ve done our part. The truth is $15 dollars today does not accomplish what $1 accomplished then. There are obvious questions we should ask ourselves. How generous were we with our funds when we purchased dating services, porn site memberships, and time on chat lines? How much money did we spend on gas so we could drive to meet an acting-out partner or find an acting-out partner? Here’s the big one: Where would we be today if S.A.A. did not exist? Our contributions to the basket should be an expression of gratitude for what was freely given to us. We should hold our brothers and sisters in recovery accountable for doing the same.