Big Book Recovery

Working the 12 Step Programme

Traditions 6, 7 & 8

Tradition 1 explains the need for AA unity and that all the Traditions work towards this end. Tradition 12 reminds us that they do so by requiring us to take actions of humility and countering the defects of character that reside in all of us. Traditions 6, 7 and 8 protect AA from our greed and dishonesty. They concern money.

The long form of Tradition 7 reads: The AA groups themselves ought to be fully supported by the voluntary contributions of their own members. We think that each group should soon achieve this ideal; that any public solicitation of funds using the name of Alcoholics Anonymous is highly dangerous, whether by groups, clubs, hospitals, or other outside agencies; that acceptance of large gifts from any source, or of contributions carrying any obligation whatever, is unwise. Then too, we view with much concern those AA treasuries with continue, beyond prudent reserves, to accumulate funds for no stated purpose. Experience has often warned us that nothing can so surely destroy our spiritual heritage as futile disputes over property, money and authority.

This Tradition outlines the idea of corporate poverty. We try to avoid accumulating money. Also, after the initial setting-up period, a group declines outside contributions. This tradition protects AA as a whole from dishonest alcoholics. It is the principle of autonomy applied to finances. Wherever there is a pile of money, you can be sure that we will quarrel about it and pretty soon an alcoholic somewhere will try to steal it; the bigger the pot of money, the greater the temptation. Such disputes are likely to bring the group down, but as long as each group is not financially connected to any other, it cannot bring any other groups down with it. Similarly, if AA as a whole is not receiving any outside funds, it cannot bring AA into dispute with any outside agencies, which might have been cheated of their money. Occasionally, there are difficulties when a group fails to pay the rent and comes to its local intergroup for help. On these occasions, the intergroup might pitch in and pay the outstanding amount, but only on the condition that the group is closed down. This saves AA’s good name without supporting the group that is failing to be self-supporting artificially. Also, if a group is not reliant on any other, or any outside agencies, for money, then it will not compromise its message in order to try to please the outside donors. This helps to protect the integrity of the AA message.

This question of preserving the integrity of the AA message is important. Tradition 8 is designed to deal with this in particular: Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever non-professional. We define professionalism as the occupation of counselling alcoholics for fees or hire. But we may employ alcoholics where they are going to perform those services for which we might otherwise have to engage non-alcoholic. Such special services may be well recompensed. But our usual AA “12 Step” work is never to be paid for.

Businesses are successful because they give people what they want, not what they need. As we know, what we want and what we need are not always the same thing. If we were offering AA for money, the temptation to adapt it, so that it corresponds more to what people will pay for would be too great for many of us to resist. This is contrary to spirit of the chapter Working with Others, which outlines our general approach: we lay the programme out on the table and the sit back and let people decide if they want it or not. If they don’t want it, we drop them and focus on others that do.

If we wanted to sell AA to make money, we might be tempted to alter a few things: we would still have a 12-step programme, but perhaps without changing the wording of the steps themselves, we might try to lessen the faith element and present it more in accordance with current psychological theories; or perhaps we would change the 4th step into a life story that requires less of a cold, hard look at ourselves and indulges us in our desire to blame others for how we feel; or we might be less rigorous about insisting that practising spiritual principles in all our affairs really does mean that. If we did these things, we would get more people wanting to give it a go and we would make more money. But of course, there would be no guarantee that our “clients”, as we would now call our drunks, would stay sober even if they did what we suggested, for we would have changed the AA message. The only way to ensure that we were delivering sobriety would be to lock people up and physically bar them from access to alcohol. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing for our business, though, for we could build a residential home as comfortable as a hotel and charge hotel rates for board and lodging. Of course, when people leave the security of our centre, there is the worry that they would drink again soon. But, we get around that by recommending that they go to AA afterwards and present our role as one of preparing the individual for the long-term benefits that AA can give them. If anybody is reading to this thinks they might like to try it. You can! And some already have. This Tradition does not say there is anything wrong with it. It just says that if we do so, we can’t call it AA. However, we should take care, for if anyone pays us for carrying the message, our advice may or may not keep those we help to stay sober, but it is not going to keep us sober, for, we are told, it does not represent 12th-step work. If we want the benefits of the AA programme, we must do 12-step work that is freely given.

Tradition 6 concerns a special case where we do need to accumulate large sums of money: Problems of money, property, and authority may easily divert us from our primary spiritual aim. We think, therefore, that any considerable property of genuine use to AA should be separately incorporated and managed, thus dividing the material from the spiritual. An AA group, as such, should never go into business. Secondary aids to AA, such as clubs or hospitals which require much property and administration, ought to be incorporated and so set apart that, if necessary, they can be freely discarded by the groups. Hence such facilities ought not to use the AA name. Their management should be sole responsibility of those people who financially support them. For clubs, AA managers are usually preferred. But hospitals, as well as other places of recuperation, ought to be well outside AA – and medically supervised. While an AA group may cooperate with anyone, such cooperation ought never go so far as affiliation or endorsement, actual or implied. An AA group can bind itself to no one.<

AA clubhouses are legally separated from AA, and are usually run as not-for-profit organisations with a different name, for example, Alano Club, and each AA group rents space from them in the usual way. This means that if they go under, they don’t bring AA down with them. We have come across some situations where this Tradition appears to be compromised. For example, in the UK the London telephone service occupies offices that are run by the Alcoholics Anonymous General Service Board and the manager of the office is an employee of the GSB. It is used by the members from the London service committees and General Service structure, but is not funded directly by the groups that use it. And the office manager is employed by the GSB rather than directly by the groups that he serves. It does raise question marks as to whether or not there will be conflicts in the future concerning money, property and authority between those who use it (predominantly, though not exclusively, the London-based service committees) and the General Service Board, who fund it and control it.

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