History of A.A. Services
By Bill W., General Service Conference, 1951
Summary of Bill’s talk at the opening session of the GSC.
Development of A.A. services at the national level has followed closely the pattern that is familiar in a typical local A.A. group, Bill said.
In the local group, there is first a “founder.” The founder and his friends, in the early days of the group, constitute a self-appointed service committee that does the various chores that have to be done in a new group. For a time this committee in effect “runs” the group. It programs the meetings. It arranges the refreshments. And it coordinates Twelfth Step work.
As the group increases in size, the newer members usually put to work the principle of rotation in handling group affairs. They select a service committee, which may or may not include the founder and his friends. They change the committee at regular intervals.
Whereas in the beginning responsibility for group services rested with a small number of self-appointed workers, this responsibility had now been shifted to the membership of the local group as a whole.
This is a natural and logical development, Bill pointed out. The same processes have been at work in A.A. at the national level and the time has now come when responsibility for national services can similarly be turned over to a rotating committee representing the membership as a whole. The General Service Conference is the tool for accomplishing this.
The first approach to the problem of providing national services was made in 1937 when A.A. was in its third year, and as yet nameless. In those days, Bill said, the first members were inclined to think in terms of a great plan for many hospitals, rest homes and professional literature.
Mr. John D. Rockefeller became interested in the budding movement and sent a representative to investigate work being done in Akron. The report which followed seemed completely encouraging. It recommended subsidizing the movement, the purchase of a hospital and the allocation of money for the preparation of a book.
Mr. Rockefeller listened to the report with great interest. Then he spoke the words that, according to Bill, saved the destiny of A.A. “I am terribly afraid that money will spoil this,” he said. This wise decision was crucial to the growth of A.A. “It saved us from professionalism.”
The founders and their friends next set up the Alcoholic Foundation, “essentially an incorporated self-appointed committee.”
The need for a book still dominated the early members’ thinking. Work was begun and there was great elation when a commercial publisher became interested to the extent of offering Bill a $1,500 “advance payment.” Then followed another decision of great importance to the future of A.A. services. That decision was to form a publishing company to produce the book as the property of the movement, rather than through conventional publishing channels.
Thus Works Publishing, Inc. was formed with 600 shares of stock—”par value” $25.00 —— 200 shares held by Bill, 200 by another early member and 200 distributed among less than 100 alcoholics. Approximately $4,500 was raised, largely due to encouragement from the editors of a national magazine who indicated they would publicize the movement and the book when the latter appeared. Five thousand copies of the book were printed, following which the aforementioned editors announced they had decided not to handle the story after all.
Thus 1939 was one of the low points in the development of A.A. services. Bill and Lois were forced out of their home. Works Publishing was “stuck” with nearly 5,000 books. Only the appearance of a story in Liberty Magazine suggested that the movement might survive and go forward. About 800 inquiries resulted from the Liberty article.
At this point (early 1940) Mr. Rockefeller held a dinner which had two important results. It raised $3,000 which was divided for the “upkeep” of Bill and Dr. Bob. And it resulted in widespread favorable recognition for the movement.
An office was set up – the first national service office—to handle the growing stream of inquiries. Ruth H., the first secretary, was supported out of income from the book.
The turning point in A.A. came with the publication of Jack Alexander’s “Saturday Evening Post” article in April 1941. Thousands of inquiries swamped the office, inquiries which could not be handled adequately with funds available at the time. Because of this, the first solicitation letter was then sent to the groups, suggesting that one dollar per year per member be sent to the Foundation for its service activities.
Now the Foundation became the custodian of two kinds of funds, General Funds (from the sale of the book and from the Rockefeller dinner) and Group Funds (contributed by individual members through the groups). A rigid policy, continuously enforced, provides that Group Funds can be used only for service to groups and for the development of new groups.
It also became clear at this stage in the growth of A.A. services that the book should not be controlled privately. Bill and the other early members each turned over to the Foundation their blocks of 200 shares of Works Publishing, Inc. A loan from Mr. Rockefeller enabled the Foundation to buy up the remaining 200 shares in the hands of 49 other alcoholics.
In the early forties, Works Publishing, Inc. was also the A.A. service office. Operations were supervised by various Committees of the Foundation, a procedure that soon became unwieldy.
Today a seven-man General Service Committee supervises the General Service Office. The Trustees of the Foundation elect four of their members to serve. Others on the General Service Committee are the president of Works Publishing, Inc., the editor of the “Grapevine” and the senior general secretary of the General Service Office.
The various loans made by Mr. Rockefeller have been repaid and the Foundation no longer accepts funds from outside A.A. On several occasions the national services of A.A. have been “saved” by the prudent reserve maintained by the Foundation, which has also subsidized the “Grapevine.”
Through the General Service Conference, A.A. as a whole is now brought into the picture. The Conference is a “huge rotating committee” in whose hands has been placed responsibility for A.A. ‘s worldwide services—assistance to the groups, public relations, preparation and distribution of literature, foreign propagation and other activities.
“This is your legacy of service. Guard it carefully. We hope you will like the stewardship we have given you.”