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by Luke H.
More often than not I don’t know a thing about what I’m doing when I first try something, and what I do know is usually wrong. Such has been my experience with Teleservice in San Francisco. I heard it was what other people in the Fellowship did for service. I heard that it was hurting, with volunteers dropping and leadership in general disarray. I didn’t pay much attention, though. I never felt compelled to help out even when I heard some passionate members push to breathe life back into the organization.
Passionate members pushed to breathe life back into it
My experience getting involved with Teleservice reminds me of a phenomenon I experienced some years ago growing up in Orange County. Have you ever had a favorite radio station that keeps playing a really awful song that you totally hate? When I was younger, I listened to KROQ 106.7 all the time. My clock radio woke me up by playing KROQ. Almost without fail, Jack Johnson’s “Banana Pancakes” would be playing first thing in the morning. Every. Single. Morning.
I swore that the DJs were doing this to ruin my morning. I already had to be in class by 7:20 so this was just adding insult to injury for me. Weeks passed. Months flew by. Gradually I found myself singing along to “Banana Pancakes” as I awoke to it. I even bought Jack Johnson’s entire discography on CD (I still stand by this decision – he rules).
Bringing it back to Teleservice now: I heard Lara A. announce at what seemed like every meeting that Teleservice wasn’t doing too well. Every week, she made the same announcement. Eventually, she approached me and asked if I was interested in helping out. I found myself saying “yes” and promising that I would be at a Gratitude Center ad hoc orientation on Saturday. I had heard Teleservice talked about enough that I realized I had but one choice: help out to ensure the future of this great part of the service work, made possible by Intergroup.
I was sure I was going to tank
I attended and said I would take a regular shift. Should there be an opening, I didn’t mind being a Daily Coordinator (keeping scheduled volunteers apprised of shifts and helping volunteers get coverage if needed). Lara got back to me within a day or so and said I had a shift. I was now a Daily Coordinator for Wednesday. Wait, what? I hadn’t even done my first shift and I needed to help out a crew of seasoned volunteers every week. I was sure I was going to tank.
Almost three years have passed since then. I appreciate and love Teleservice more than ever before. We have great Daily Coordinators and even better volunteers. Were it not for COVID-19, we would have had our annual volunteer appreciation brunch, at some church last remodeled in the late 1970s, I’m sure. The last one in 2019 was pretty great – so many people I had emailed, talked to on the phone yet had never met in person! We actually got to meet each other and share some laughs over chilled Minute Maid orange juice.
I encourage you to come and join us on the third Monday of the month at 6:00 p.m. for orientation. We have a lot of fun helping out still-suffering alcoholics. Until then, I’ll keep announcing the same entreaty each week at the meetings I attend for others to join me for fun with Teleservice. It grows on you like banana pancakes.
After binge watching drag races at home, I now hear this phrase in my sleep: “If you can’t love yourself, how in the he*% you gonna love somebody else?” Along these lines, Rick R reminds us The Golden Rule requires high self-esteem (and how to get it). Sheer repetition leads to Luke H joining Teleservice in Banana Pancakes—a great reason to remember to announce service positions. And in a book review Alan G recounts some of Bill W’s most historic lines, such as “I am an anarchist who revels in liberty.”
Our Letters to the Editor include an opposition statement and a response from the Intercounty Fellowship of A.A. Board. We also see Another Perspective on Service from John W. When all else fails, try the power of promotion from Kathleen C’s Little Sister. I’m looking forward to the time when “Corona” just means “beer” again and I run out of reasons to be a couch potato. Tune in next month when the Point features sponsor trinities, tiffany lamps, Old Brazil and so much more! If you’d like to say something to our fellowship, click here, or here for the Point Podcast.
by Rick R.
When I entered the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, I identified with just about everything I had read and heard, and I began to recognize where I went wrong up to that point. I realized that I had no direction in my life, no moral compass to speak of. I felt inferior, unworthy, disrespected, isolated, unappreciated, disliked, etc. The failure in my personal relationships manifested itself in low self-esteem and self-loathing.
I was going to have to depend on something outside of myself to govern my judgment and my decision-making. One of the first default positions I would take to surrender to these new realities was to concede to the fact that, as an alcoholic, my brain did not process information properly, and that I was going to have to trust in something more reliable. Living by principles – what a concept.
If you start with the child and work your way to the rogue, it will get easier
There are people who believe that if we all lived by one simple principle, we wouldn’t need any other laws on this planet, and that principle is The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. That simple statement gave me an understanding of how I could begin adopting a value system, based on principles, where I did not have to originate my own rules.
While reading a book on economics, the author stated, “A man who lives by principles has 99% of his decisions already made for him.” With that in mind, I began to establish a system of principles that are consistent with the A.A. program, and, I might add, with most of the other successful philosophies of life. I would read the St. Francis Prayer daily (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pg. 99). I attend a step study meeting weekly to reinforce these principles and to make sure that I am not modifying these standards to evade the tougher actions.
Reprogram mental software to default to principles
I was complaining about another member of our group one day, to one of my mentors at that time, and he suggested that I try to place principles before personalities. I responded, yes, but I do not agree with his principles. He then said it was not his principles that we are talking about, but that it was my principles that needed to change. He then informed me that we cannot be selective about with whom and when we apply these values. I must treat everyone with respect, and that goes for the smallest, innocent child to the most errant rogue that I might encounter. I know that it seems like an impossible task, but I assure you that if you start with the child and work your way to the rogue, it will get easier. If you don’t let your ego convince you otherwise. There are many suggestions in the Big Book and the 12&12 that have given me plenty of material to work with so that this does not have to become a crisis management project. It is more like a lifelong pruning of my unwanted, destructive behaviors.
Here are a few of those suggestions: Exercise restraint of tongue and pen (or thumb and send) . Drop the word blame from your thoughts and speech. Stop fighting everyone and everything.
Cash-register honesty means I must be honest with everyone, not just the person at the cash register. If we all had amnesia, we would all be pretty much the same. The only things that make us different are the things we carry around between our ears. It may be time to reprogram the mental software to default to the principles that have been proven to work so well for so many. No one could ever fault us for living by the principles that we learned in A.A.
by Kathleen C.
When my sister Carolyn and I were kids we once drew a chalk line down the center of our shared room and promised death to whoever crossed the line. She thought I was a mean bossy big sister. I thought she was an annoying sensitive little sister. After high school we both left home. Mom and Dad had problems with alcohol and pills, so we set out to create some of our own.
We shared a two-room apartment on Read Street, in Baltimore, where we both went to college. It was fun for a while, there were parties and adventures. But it got old fast and our tastes in substances were always a little different. I thought her sloppy drunken dope-fiend friends and their shoplifting habits were too low-rent for words. I drank wine, went to art films instead of bars and was much more ladylike. I also feared that her friends were taking my sister away from me. I busted her to our parents who had her committed to a mental hospital (they didn’t have rehab back then). Her lowlife friends broke her out and she and I didn’t speak for a year.
It was fun for a while
I moved to San Francisco, and a few years later she moved to L.A. We were no longer sworn enemies. I was married, even had two little daughters. I was still drinking and using, though. She had been recruited by a big company in the arts world and was soon in the Hollywood social whirl. She whirled a little too hard and got fired from the big company and had a tough time landing another job. Then something happened. She started going to some kind of meetings. Next thing I knew, she was inviting me to go with her, every time I came down to visit.
I made fun of her. I figured Alcoholics Anonymous was just another one of her psychobabble therapy-of-the-month fads. I half expected to see some sari-clad guru surrounded by incense smoke and devotees bestowing garlands around the necks of trusting believers. Carolyn didn’t care. She practiced promotion rather than attraction big time. “You’re a mess. You need a meeting!” She dragged me to meetings in Hollywood. “Come on, we’ll see movie stars.” And we did.
I also saw what I needed to see, the effects of Alcoholics Anonymous on my sister’s life. This was a girl who, after a night of drinking, once drove a car halfway around Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. In the rain. Flipped over on its roof. She had emerged into the rain-lashed darkness, her evening gown in shreds, screaming for her Charles Jourdan shoes. Now she spent her evenings in A.A. meetings, in West Hollywood, Fairfax and less posh areas of Los Angeles. She took me to gay meetings, biker meetings, women’s meetings. I didn’t want to identify; these people weren’t like me. But here was my sister, one of them, but still herself. She didn’t stop being Carolyn just because she got sober. She was happy. She wasn’t perfect; she was still my annoying sensitive little sister. I still made fun of her, but something was changing in me too.
She crossed the chalk line
Every time I went home I resolved to change my life the way she had changed hers. I started going to meetings, even though I was still drinking. Keep coming back, she told me. When I finally hit bottom and quit smoking dope, she was the one I called. When I announced proudly, “I quit smoking dope,” she answered “And . . .?” When I replied, “And what?” she answered again, “What about alcohol?” When I dithered about how alcohol wasn’t really my drug of choice, I was mostly a pothead, I hardly even got drunk . . . she suggested I try quitting alcohol. So I tried quitting alcohol. Twenty years ago, I tried quitting alcohol and I have continued ever since, one day at a time.
Thanks to my sister. My sister who crossed the chalk line, who practiced promotion as well as attraction, who took me to meetings, who showed me how quitting drinking and working the steps and going to meetings could change my life, the way it changed hers. My annoying sensitive little sister.
by John W
One cannot overstate the importance of intensive work with other alcoholics to insure immunity from drinking” (Alcoholics Anonymous, pg. 88). The effect this had upon the Founders of the program in the short time that preceded their writing of the Big Book, in which they made the observation, has been underscored by the experiences of countless recovered drunks since. Yours truly is among that group of believers. That service comes in many forms, I discovered before reading about it in the Big Book in one of the stories in the back (Alcoholics Anonymous, pg. 366). Later in my sobriety I realized my frequent volunteering to clean up the meeting space, washing dirty reusable coffee cups, or sweeping and mopping, even while still struggling to stop drinking, had broken down the walls of solitude and distance from when I first crossed the A.A. threshold.
He picked me up off the canvas before the count had reached ten
Sober years that followed the miracle of the obsession lifting on that fateful St. Patrick’s Day. I can report only what I have seen and only what I have heard about the principle of service. I know how those who were of service to me, worked with neither pay nor promise of reward, to try to bestow upon me the value of adherence to the suggestions offered by working the steps. As a grateful heir to the legacy of those who walked the walk before me, I found the limitless lode would only pay dividends if mined for the rest of my life with the proceeds given away entirely. As my sponsor was so kind to demonstrate for me, sometimes it was less painful to run into a brick wall than to try to help another alcoholic, especially one who is unsure of their real need for such help. With such service comes the pain of failure. Yet such failure might actually only belong to the unwilling alcoholic. It makes no difference to the one trying to help. The failure still hurts. So the policy we take out to insure against the effects of this risk of failure, is the continued striving to carry the message of hope to those whom the disease besets. Because ours is only a daily reprieve, my struggle to fend off my disease and provide help as I may which others might need, once joined becomes a battle ongoing. But it is nevertheless, a battle that we can hope to win today.
As with any step, where my progress on it has slowed, I have heard sound advice. Reflection upon the prior step can produce unexpected, positive results. So, too, with the principle of service. In a moment of confusion and weakness, when that cherished sponsee had gone out and all contact with him and his family ceased, I asked, What’s the point? Is this all service is about? Make the effort, lose and move on? This doubt seemed to grow with each moment I gave power to it by pondering it. In my alcoholic quagmire, the thought came again that I needed to retreat to the previous step, to turn to improving my conscious contact with my Higher Power, to seek solace in His embrace and power.
I was back again for the next round
What came as such a surprise to me in that effort, likely would come as no shock to those who had experienced this revelation before me. For if my Higher Power was so powerful He could relieve me of my obsessive drinking behavior, why could He not also relieve me of this doubt? I had been told there were no mistakes in His world, so my work, albeit unsuccessful, with my lost sponsee, was also not a mistake. I found that the fruit of my doubt was that I had been willing to turn to Him for help and with that action had received the help and guidance I needed. He had picked me up off the canvas before the count had reached ten. I was back again for the next round. Yes, I was a bit battered and bruised for the experience, but I was not yet defeated, I was on my feet, I had lived to fight another day.
However, the scar from that knock down remained. I can now see in service, not only that it comes in many forms and helps me to stay sober, or that, when fortunate, it likewise helps others in their sobriety. I can also see it as an invitation to draw closer to the Higher Power of my understanding. This invitation is extended many times each day, with each challenge. All I need do is be willing to look for it and accept where it guides me. This is the essence of the principle of service, freely given as I trudge the road of happy destiny.
by Alan G.
“As an A.A. member, I am an anarchist who revels in liberty” (Our Great Responsibility, p. 27). I believe if I had heard those words spoken by Bill W., the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, on my first day of getting sober, I might never have wanted to leave the rooms again. Of course without working the steps my chances of staying sober were slim. But the philosophy that serves as the foundation for A.A’s success has been a primary factor for my continued sobriety. All knowledge of alcoholics and alcoholism leading up to that fateful meeting between Bill W. and Dr. Bob would have everyone believe that a society of drunks helping drunks was an impossibility. It turns out that lunatics running the asylum can actually produce miracles around the world.
Our Fellowship would find in our principles of recovery a sufficient containing power to hold us in unity
Published in April 2019, Our Great Responsibility includes sixteen of Bill W.’s talks at the General Service Conference between 1951 and 1970. He narrates the precarious birth of the General Service Conference, the tumultuous growing pains as the Conference took hold of its intended purpose, the maturity of the service structure as the Fellowship rapidly expanded, and finally the adult phase of a global organization whose function is to forever be unorganized. Reading through the talks, I felt Bill’s amazement witnessing the unlikely development of A.A.’s service structure. He shares his sense of humility, acceptance and grace and the history of the Conference. The guiding presence of a higher power, an ultimate authority, resonates down through the years as Bill’s tone fluctuates from emotional effluence to wizened analysis of the miraculous gift spreading worldwide among those beaten to within inches of their own lives.
Bill talks us through the big changes faced by this experimental society of sobriety: the writing of the book, the explosion in membership and the formation of the Foundation. The loss of Dr. Bob and the birth of the General Service Conference all happened within the first fifteen years. Even through the darkest times of A.A.’s adolescence Bill refers to what he calls the language of the heart. He expressed a strong belief that a society of “drunks helping drunks” could work like the 12 steps to change in alcoholics’ lives. He witnessed a psychic transformation in the Fellowship as a whole as it gradually placed its trust in the leaderless leadership.
Bill always stayed focused on A.A.’s primary purpose. “Everybody in a certain sense is a leader in this Society. Everybody who carries the language of the heart to the man or gal still suffering; this is the supreme leadership. This is the greatest trusted errand. But there are those of us who find ourselves cast into assignments of service leadership, and this is nothing but a specialty in which we are supposed to become expert and dedicated in the task of making the primary leadership possible. If the light is to be carried to the newcomer, he has to be brought within reach of it. This is our business here. It is the business of every intergroup association, every group committee” (pp. 161-162).
During that first decade the ever-present doom of dissolution became the fertile ground from which a vibrant fellowship sprung. Much like the gift of desperation guides the suffering alcoholic to the life raft of sobriety, so did those fledgling groups cling desperately to what they were building to protect the gift of sobriety at all costs. The traditions evolved during that period of adolescence as groups discovered how best to carry the message. They survived through trial and error, sometimes overreaching and other times overly cautious in their acceptance of change. “Then came the test whether our growing groups could live and work together — whether the enormous, explosive, neurotic quality of our Fellowship would find in our principles of recovery a sufficient containing power to hold us in unity” (p. 41).
Simultaneously, the Alcoholic Foundation (now known as the General Service Office, or G.S.O.) and the individual groups learned the lessons which informed the creation of the traditions. Each discovered their own path towards a shared understanding of how Alcoholics Anonymous would survive. The rapidly growing society of alcoholics — many of whom were crushed morally, physically and spiritually upon entering the Fellowship — brought the question of leadership into sharp focus for Bill. These old-timers knew recovery depended on faith in a power greater than themselves. So, it turned out, did our unity.
A.A. progress can be reckoned in terms of just two words: humility and responsibility
A momentous shift in A.A’s service structure occurred at the 1965 General Service Conference. The balance of trustees shifted from a majority of Class A non-alcoholic trustees to a majority of Class B alcoholic trustees in 1966. The fate of the society was in their hands. A.A. had come of age and the tumultuous growing period evolved into a stable service structure. Its foundation was traditions and principles for adapting to whatever challenges the future held.
Bill’s talk at the 1965 convention resonated with an aura of grace. His words conveyed a sense of calm reassurance for the fellowship’s capability to meet its responsibilities. Early on in my own path of service in A.A. I heard a quote from this talk, “As we know, all A.A. progress can be reckoned in terms of just two words: humility and responsibility” (p. 84).
Alcoholics Anonymous may never again have to trudge through the challenges of those first 20 years, but change is constant. Our ability to adapt is prefigured in the experience, strength and hope of those who set the stage before us. We face momentous changes. Social structures are shifting, new technologies are evolving, and people around the world are wondering what the future holds. We in A.A. have a history of adapting to survive. We will reach still-suffering alcoholics wherever they may be. Guided by our three legacies of recovery, unity and service, we take responsibility for the progress necessary for the future. “Ever-deepening humility, accompanied by an ever-greater willingness to accept and to act upon clear-cut obligations — these are truly our touchstones for all growth in the life of the spirit” (p. 84).
For more information on Our Great Responsibility is in the Spring 2019 issue of Box 459.
Opposition Statement: $150K Bequest
To the Editor,
The excess bequest of $140,000 cannot be accepted by IFAA because it violates both the wording and the spirit of our Seventh Tradition. The long form of Tradition Seven states “acceptance of large gifts from any source … is unwise” and is reinforced by Warranty One of Concept XII, which says we should refuse to take outside contributions and hold each individual’s gift to a modest figure. We only take support from members, and we only take it in limited amounts.
The limits set for contributions are regularly reviewed and voted on at our General Service Conference, meaning that they represent the actual voice and effective conscience of our entire Fellowship, and are stated in our GSO publication AA Guidelines on Finance as well as in the pamphlets “Self-Support: Where Money & Spirituality Mix” and “The AA Group.” In 2018, the limit for a one-time bequest was set at $10,000. IFAA has adopted this limit and has posted it on their website. This is our current policy and it requires substantial unanimity to change it or make an exception.
While IFAA isn’t part of the General Service structure, it’s still part of A.A. Any deviation from A.A. principles should be undertaken with the utmost transparency and consideration. Given the magnitude of the issue this would involve thorough discussion, input, and substantial unanimity from the groups through their IGRs to change our stated policy. This did not occur yet the Board accepted the $140,000 bequest in April 2020.
While the funds could undeniably be put to good use to reach the still-suffering alcoholic, we can never fulfill one tradition by violating another. No matter how worthy the uses of the funds, we can’t accept them at the expense of our principles; it’s a classic case of the good being the enemy of the best (Tradition Two). If the SF/Marin Fellowship at large deems these special projects worthy of support, they can be submitted in the budget and appeals can go out to the fellowship to assist in their funding. This is the time-honored method for self-support and, tempting as it may be, we cannot take the easier, softer way.
If A.A. were to follow the common non-profit practice of cultivation of wealthy members for large contributions, it would ultimately lead to a shift away from dependence on the groups. This is exactly what Bill was speaking about in Tradition Seven with the example of the wealthy benefactor. Quite obviously we wouldn’t be obligated to the deceased donor who left us the money — but we would be dependent on that methodof support. The concern was as much about to whom we would ultimately be accountable, as it was about whether the benefactor was a member. “Compared to this prospect the $10,000 under consideration wasn’t much, but like the alcoholic’s first drink it would, if taken, inevitably set up a disastrous chain reaction,” Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Tradition Seven, p.164.
The argument that taking the money doesn’t violate the Seventh Tradition because the funds are for a stated purpose simply doesn’t hold water. In the example cited above, do we think there wasn’t a stated purpose for the money in 1948 when A.A. was struggling to keep the New York office doors open? (“The Foundation was really hard up just then,” Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Tradition Seven, p.164.) We alcoholics are well-experienced in eschewing principles to justify our wants. No doubt, we could all think of many splendid purposes for even more money, but it doesn’t justify ignoring the principles which have seen us through the past 85 years.
A note of relevance from the US/Canada Virtual Forum held on 12/19/20. A member asked the question, “Under the current financial policy and limits for contributions … would GSO, or any of the Central Offices on the panel, accept a one-time bequest of $150,000?” The answer from the GSO General Manager was immediate and unequivocal: “GSO would not accept a bequest in an amount more than the Conference-mandated amount.” Period. No extenuating circumstances or qualifications about how much they need the money or how much good it would do. Note: Our General Service Office (GSO) in New York will never tell another service entity what to do because they don’t govern (C-XII, Warranty Six).
The precedent to accept these funds threatens A.A. as a whole and cannot not be supported. We owe our lives to A.A. Personal ambitions and impressive plans (Rule 62), no matter how well intentioned, must always take a back seat when weighed against the sacrifice of our traditions.
Response from IFAA Board
To the Editor,
The IFAA Board did not accept the bequest on behalf of IFAA. Rather the IFAA Board made a recommendation that Intergroup make a one time exception to the $10,000 limit on bequests which was then discussed and adopted by Intergroup Representatives at the March 2020 meeting (Intergroup Meeting Agenda 4/1/2020, p. 5 [Intergroup Agenda – March 2020 – 3]). Intergroup adhered to the consensus model of decision making by discussing the matter, taking stack and ultimately coming to a unanimous consensus of the Intergroup Representatives present. The consensus model allows any voting member to block the item or to request continued discussion. There was neither a block nor a request from the Intergroup Representatives present to return to their groups for continued discussion.
The Board reports transactions for any given month one month behind, e.g., April transactions are reported to Intergroup at the June meeting, May transactions at the July meeting, and so on. The contribution in question was entered as income under the line item of Individual Contributions – unrestricted and placed on the balance sheet as Asset – cash. For purposes of reporting to the Intergroup, this information was segregated and presented under the header Special Projects Fund to call attention to this contribution and its special purpose. Intergroup agreed that the contribution would not be used for our normal operating expenditures.
Best regards, happy holidays
IFAA Board of Directors
March 2020 Intergroup Meeting
To the Editor,
IGRs who attended the March 2020 intergroup meeting have stated: It was a small group due to the pandemic—37 IGRs—when normal attendance back then was usually closer to 50 or 60. Information about the two bequests was minimal: “Exact amounts unknown but well above the limit” (Intergroup Meeting Agenda 4/1/2020, p. 5 [Intergroup Agenda – March 2020 – 3]).
The IGRs were asked for our reaction. Some expressed opposition to accepting the bequest. Some expressed interest in more information, and some expressed no opinion. Few, if any, expressed strong support for accepting a bequest. The reality of what happened at the March 2020 intergroup meeting doesn’t change.
From December 2020: The Loyal Opposition
To the Editor,
Our local A.A. Fellowship is currently facing the single biggest issue I’ve seen since I got sober in 1987. Should we accept large bequests in excess of our seventh tradition guidelines? The seventh tradition is very clear on the two aspects of self-support. It’s also mentioned in the A.A. Guidelines on Finance and our pamphlet “Self-Support: Where Money and Spirituality Mix.”
- We don’t accept any outside contributions from non-members, and
- We don’t accept gifts from any member in amounts greater than $5,000 per year for individuals or $10,000 as a one-time bequest.
Warranty One of Concept XII says we should “refuse to take outside contributions and hold each individual’s gift at a modest figure.” The six General Warranties of Concept XII are part of the A.A. Conference Charter and require the written consent of three-quarters of all directory-listed A.A. Groups to be changed. These amounts are reviewed regularly at our annual General Service Conference. Per Concept II, it represents the collective conscience of our entire fellowship. At the 2018 General Service Conference, the one-time limit for bequests was raised from $5,000 to $10,000. The Intercounty Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous (IFAA) has that limit posted on their website.
Nevertheless, last April the IFAA Board accepted a bequest which was $140,000 in excess of those guidelines. While the IFAA Board has the right to make decisions about administrative matters, it certainly doesn’t have the right to make decisions which deviate from either the collective conscience of A.A. or from our Traditions. If considered at all, such a deviation should be considered only with the utmost transparency and caution. Given the magnitude of the issue this would involve thorough discussion, input and voting from the SF/Marin groups through their IGRs.
The issue was discussed briefly at the Intergroup meeting in March, 2020. Either a consensus was agreed upon or it was agreed to continue discussing the matter. According to the meeting minutes, the motion was not stated nor was an official vote taken. The IGRs were not encouraged to bring the matter to their groups for full discussion and voting. The matter was never advanced as Old Business, never put in Targeted Messages. Questions arose at the October 2020 business meeting.
Regarding financial reporting, it was announced in June that funds had been accepted in April. The income was entered on a separate Special Funds balance sheet, which was to be reported quarterly. The regular Income Statement available monthly has a section specifically for contributions, but the income was not entered there nor was it entered in assets on the regular monthly Balance Sheet. Alcoholics Anonymous has always held itself to a higher standard of reporting accountability than may be legally required. Our General Service Office in New York lists all contributions, no matter what their intended purpose, on their regular Balance Sheet for transparency.
The argument that this situation is the fault of groups’ not having IGRs simply isn’t valid. In the 33 years I’ve been a member of A.A. and actively involved in service committee work, service committees have had the same complaint. Yet when an issue of vital interest to the fellowship arises, groups will rally. That’s the reality of participation.
The plans for spending the money sound worthy but are irrelevant if they require that we violate our traditions in the process. It’s a case of the good being the enemy of the best and sets a perilous precedent. If we can ignore the principles which have seen us through the past 85 years to justify this deviation, then I can think of a million good justifications for other deviations. We alcoholics are pretty experienced with justifying our wants. As now-sober alcoholics, we should never do so at the expense of the traditions on which we rely for our very survival. If those wants are worthy, the SF/Marin Fellowship will contribute toward them in the proper way, not by breaking our seventh tradition.
Where’s our gratitude? Due to these bequests we legitimately have $20,000 that we would not otherwise have had to spend on Special Projects. Rather than being thankful for what we have, why would we grab for more than we have a right to?
The IFAA board is accountable per our second and ninth traditions. They are trusted servants and they do not govern. Nor do they decide which traditions will be upheld and which won’t. And finally, there’s the issue of the motion itself. For the information of A.A. members who weren’t at the November business meeting, the motion we passed by substantial unanimity was to revisit the March decision on the issue of whether IFAA should accept a $140,000 bequest in excess of the A.A. Guidelines. That motion was reworded in an email to IGRs 11/12/2020. Eleven days later, the board sent out a further communication to IGRs stating a different motion (“Intergroup should return all but $10k of the $140k bequest”).
We need to keep consistent wording for motions which were passed. Period. Otherwise a motion for censure may be in order. The Twelve Concepts for World Service mention “the force of tradition and the power of the A.A. purse” (Concept VII). Some may wish to place their contributions to IFAA on temporary hold until this issue is resolved. I urge all groups to engage in thorough discussion on this matter, to arrive at an informed group conscience and to put that group conscience forward through their elected Intergroup Representative.
To Revisit Acceptance
To the Editor:
I am writing about two emails that IFAA Board Chair Alan G sent to Intergroup reps. In the emails, the Board Chair misstates the motion that is up for a vote before the Intergroup at the December 2 meeting. This motion was submitted and accepted at the November Intergroup meeting to be taken back to our groups for their informed group conscience. The motion is simple: “To revisit acceptance” of the additional $140,000 above the $10,000 limit set by General Service and adopted as policy by SF/Marin A.A.. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “revisit” as “consider again.”
In the first email, the Board Chair says that the motion is whether to continue using the Special Projects Fund created by a $140,000 bequest (part of a total bequest of $150,000 by a deceased A.A. member) to upgrade systems at Central Office. Initially the Board accepted $10,000, but declined the $140,000 above the limit. Later they reconsidered and ultimately accepted the additional $140,000 as well.
In the second email, the Board Chair asks Intergroup reps if we presented yet another version to our groups: “Intergroup should return all but $10k of the $140k bequest.” This is also problematic because the initial bequest was $150,000, not $140,000.
The Board Chair has now sent out two versions of the motion to be voted on in December. Neither of them are the motion that was actually proposed and accepted for consideration by the groups. People were there when the motion was made. We are witnesses. We heard the motion. We took notes. We know what happened. Special Projects Fund is a puff piece presenting the Board’s version of events, including the mythical strong support that never happened at the March 2020 meeting and the ongoing discussions with the groups that also never happened.
The real motion is simple: to “revisit the acceptance” of the $140,000 over the limit (in addition to the $10,000 within the limit) set by General Service and adopted by San Francisco Marin A.A.
1. If acceptance of the additional $140,000 and creation of the Special Projects Fund was proper, vote Yes. What has not been spent of the $140,000 stays in Special Projects Fund.
2. If acceptance of additional $140,000 was not proper, vote No. Then $140,000 goes back to the estate.
Nothing in the original motion mentions whether to continue spending the Special Projects Fund and all the wonderful things that would accomplish. Nor is it only about whether to return the excess $140,000, but also whether the Board acted improperly in accepting it in the first place, necessitating that $140,000 should be returned. My group voted that the acceptance was not proper and the $140,000 should be returned to the estate.
How Do We Not
To the Editor:
How do we not f*** this up? The primary issue is whether it is consistent with the A.A. Traditions for Intergroup of San Francisco to accept a bequest of $140,000 from a donor who named A.A. as a beneficiary in the donor’s will has certainly drawn the attention of the greater San Francisco A.A. community. Thus far, Intergroup has used some of this fund for repairing and updating A.A. of San Francisco’s digital infrastructure and created a free-to-use PDF generator that can be used for intergroups around the world.
Before delving further into analyzing why I think Intergroup should keep this bequest, what I think maybe people are not seeing here is that ALL parties concerned, the board of IFAA (Intercounty Fellowship of A.A.) and the individuals representing the groups, the constituency that the board represents, are coming from a position of love. We all want what is best for A.A. as a whole, and to serve the newcomer as our primary purpose.
The most readily applicable tradition in this issue is Tradition Seven: “Every A.A. group ought to be be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.” In the portion of The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions concerning Tradition Seven, the authors state directly that the Alcoholic Foundation had faced a similar problem concerning whether to accept a gift from “[a] certain lady [who] had died.” The Foundation had determined not to accept the gift because it would set a bad precedent regarding outside donations. The Foundation was concerned with donations from the general public. “[A]t the slightest intimation to the general public from our trustees that we needed money, we could become immensely rich.” Such riches could have an outsize influence on the Foundation and cause it to abandon its primary purpose. Thus, Tradition Seven, and the attendant principle of corporate poverty, was created to head this off at the pass.
Let’s break that down a minute. On p. 163 of the Twelve & Twelve, we read, “A certain lady had died.” The text explains that taking money from outside sources could make the Foundation beholden to the donor. “Whoever pays the piper is apt to call the tune,” it says, referring to these outside sources. If the fear is that whoever pays the piper is apt to call the tune, it is unclear from a practical perspective how this applies to contributions at the death of a member that have no conditions attached to accepting the gift. How is a dead person going to call the tune at all?
Nobody has really spoken about the donor in this case, the estate of a local person, whose life was presumably saved by the Intercounty Fellowship. This person is not an outside source. This is A.A. being fully self-supporting, and it’s a fine example of what we do when we are able.
The nay-sayers cry, “It’s breaking the traditions” and “It’s a slippery slope!” IMHO maybe part of it is being uncomfortable with something happening outside the scope of normal experience. The fact that the board has used the funds to repair and update a crumbling software infrastructure, and created a PDF generator that can be used for intergroups around the world, says to me that the principle of corporate poverty is being upheld. The money is being used. It is not being mis-used. Nobody is buying new toys, going out to dinner or hiring drivers to get themselves around town.
Should the IFAA Board be more transparent in their decision making? Absolutely. I’ve more than once been irked by decisions made behind closed doors.
Should we take the issue to all our groups that care enough about governance to be a part of the process? Hell yes! Should we return the money to the estate of the donor? No, that would dishonor the wishes of the A.A. member who so freely gave what was given to him/her. I am aware that this is going to be an unpopular opinion, but nobody is saying it, so I guess I need to. Pretty please let’s stop yelling at each other.
— JBH / IGR
Right of Participation
To the Editor:
Some members believe they were not granted their full Right of Participation when the board accepted a $150k bequest and established a Special Projects Fund. Some saw this fund as a departure from our seventh tradition and requested the Board give back the money. At two subsequent meetings to discuss the issue, most IGRs asked the board to rescind their decision.
At the IGR Meeting November 4, a motion was made to revisit the acceptance of the $140,000 bequest (above their/GSO policy gift limits). After discussion, it passed and the board agreed to provide clarifying language for IGRs. The board emailed material for IGRs to convey to the groups, which included this version of the motion:
“Should Intergroup continue to invest in improvements to the delivery of local services, via technical and operational upgrades through the use of the $140,000 Special Projects Fund? A yes vote means we will continue; a no vote means we will return all monies to the estate and pause all work on systems upgrades.” The implication is that those opposing the fund do not wish to carry the message or see this project completed. The statement, “We do not see a realistic path to having the $100K estimated all of the upgrades would require” could incite fear. As an alternative, many members suggested asking their groups to pass the basket for this self-support.
The board mentioned they are available to visit meetings to explain the issues, claiming IGRs confused consensus or misunderstood plans for accepting the funds. It’s a worthy desire to carry the message, alleviate the funding burden and share this knowledge with other Intergroups. Yet we must carefully reflect if this deviation from our traditions and the consequences to our unity are worth it. In the collective conscience of the fellowship, some see this as “an ego feeding proposition.”
Experience tells us A.A. will continue to reach the still-suffering alcoholic without compromising integrity or seeking money, power and prestige. Groups can vote no for the well-being of A.A. as a whole. The Board may join us in good faith and restore our confidence in IFAA’s trusted servants. The silver lining for everyone will be witnessing A.A.’s traditions & concepts at work.
In All Our Affairs
To the Editor:
I am concerned about the principles practiced in the SF/Marin Intergroup. A room full of plainly troubled IGRs, old and new, was told we were going to proceed cautiously, and to ask what groups thought of the notion of “revisiting” the original bequest, and whether or not taking the money is an option. The board appeared to want to keep the money, and had the desire to have this issue resolved by year’s end for tax purposes. It’s like doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. They discussed, voted on, and passed something without properly informing the groups they represent. It was wrong to withhold information. Giving the money back is the amends.
The change in behavior is to not make a decision without proper vetting or consultation with the groups they represent. If they see that as being excessive then it may be the time has come for the spirit of rotation. We need to avoid making decisions based on self which step on the toes of the membership being served. The doublespeak must end or the job of the central office is not being done. I hope A.A. as a whole gets its eyes opened. We need to let the board know how we feel, and we are earnestly asking that the board practice our principles in all its affairs.
All the Best,
IGR Sesame Step