Better to Return
Our traditions were hammered out on the anvil of experience. AA has worked for us all these years, so let’s not louse it all up (I’ve been sober since 11/7/11, thank you, God, ODAAT). Bill W., Dr. Bob and the good old-timers paved the way for us: keep it simple. Returning the $140,000 is the sober thing to do. If we have to justify anything, it’s wrong.
Thank you for your love and service.
Live Easy But Think First,
I don’t know if you are soliciting responses about the Bequest of $140,000 received by the Central Office, but I’d like to put forth the following solution: The Bequest could be turned into a Trust. The annual donation amount suggested by AAWS/GSO could then be given to
the Intergroup/Central Office, with the remainder left in the Trust. The Trust would be otherwise untouchable during the year.
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