Our A.A. General Service Center
The Alcoholic Foundation of
Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
By Bill W.
The Alcoholic Foundation of Today
In Part One of this Foundation story we saw how an informal group of early A.A. ‘s and their non-alcoholic friends banded together in 1938 to spread the A.A. message as best they could; how this group formed The Alcoholic Foundation, and how some of them became its first Trustees. We saw how the Foundation helped Dr. Bob and me through difficult years; how the book “Alcoholics Anonymous” and the A.A. Office came into being and how, later, the Foundation acquired ownership of the A.A. book. We observed that the Foundation was chosen by the Groups in 1941, as custodian of their voluntary contributions for the support of the A.A. General Service Office at New York. We also have learned that, more recently, the Foundation assumed a responsibility for effectiveness and integrity of THE A.A. GRAPEVINE and that some time ago the A.A. Groups designated the Foundation Trustees as the overseers of our general public relations. Then early last year, on publication of “The Alcoholics Anonymous Tradition—Twelve Points to Assure Our Future,” the Trustees of The Alcoholic Foundation were named the Custodians of these traditions as well.
Such has been the gradual process of evolution and common consent by which the Foundation Trustees have come to be regarded, first nationally, and now internationally, as THE GENERAL SERVICE BOARD OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS—Custodians of A.A. Tradition, General Policy and Headquarters Funds.
In the early A.A. years Dr. Bob and I performed many of these duties ourselves. Some A.A. ‘s seem to think we still perform all of them. But that is scarcely the case. From the beginning we never had anything to do with A.A. Group funds, though we often urged the Groups to support their General Office at New York by contributions to the foundation. Bob and I were once concerned with the preparation, financing and publication of the book, “Alcoholics Anonymous.” But the Foundation now owns this book and oversees its printing and distribution. Likewise, we used to perform, in our small way, those services today rendered by the General Service Office. But these functions have been mostly transferred to the General Office staff. Hence the money and service functions of our A.A. headquarters are already lodged in more permanent agencies than Dr. Bob and me. The same kind of transfer is still going on with respect to matters of general policy. In a few years more that, too, ought to be complete. The thought is that Dr. Bob and I would like to leave, at the very middle of A.A., a simple Center of Service. Within this Center the coming generations of Custodians, Secretaries and Editors will, we trust, be accepted as our successors in such affairs.
Let us now consider the A.A. General Service Headquarters as it stands at present. The structure is simplicity itself. Mainly it consists of one principal committee and three related ones. Each, for permanence and business convenience, is incorporated.
The principal committee or Board is, of course, The Alcoholic Foundation. This is now manned by four older A.A. members and five non—alcoholic friends of the A.A. movement. As Board members (Trustees) they serve without compensation. Though there is no fixed term of office, the alcoholic members feel they should nominate their own successors about every three years. New non-alcoholic Trustees are elected by the whole Board. Unlike the Rotating Committee of a local A.A. Group, the Foundation Trustees cannot be personally known to everyone. Hence the presence of non—alcoholics on the Board has always inspired a confidence and assured a certain stability the Foundation, no doubt, would otherwise lack. Necessarily, the Board members have to choose their own successors; the election of Trustees by thousands of A.A. Groups is obviously impossible. In addition to these, the A.A. General Secretary and THE GRAPEVINE editors are ex-officio members of the Foundation and qualified to vote on all questions save their own compensation for special services.
The Foundation’s non-alcoholic members are, at this writing: Willard R. and A. Leroy C. (remembered from Rockefeller Center days as “Dick” and “Chip”), Leonard S., a physician; Bernard S., a lawyer and Leonard H., a social service authority. For alcoholics we have Horace C. and Tom K., early New York members; Dick S. formerly of Akron, Cleveland and Chicago, and Tom B., formerly of New York, now of Atlanta—both early and experienced A.A.‘s. The ex-officio members are Bobbie B., A.A. General Secretary and Tom Y., GRAPEVINE Editor—each alcoholic of note, and hard workers. Dr. Bob and I know these as our close associates; we recommend them to you all.
The Foundation’s three related Committees are: The General Office Committee, The General Policy and Publications Committee and The Grapevine Committee. To give these committees permanence and to enable them to transact business, each one, like the Foundation itself is incorporated. The General Office Committee is incorporated as A.A. General Services Inc., The Central Policy and Publications Committee as Works Publishing, Inc.; and The Grapevine Committee as The A.A. Grapevine, Inc. The Foundation, of course, owns the entire beneficial interest in each of these small corporations which are only, it must be emphasized, mere business conveniences for their respective Committees.
To assure a close working relationship between our Headquarters people, The General Office Committee is composed of three Foundation Trustees and two members of the Central Office staff; The Grapevine Committee is formed of two trustees, The Grapevine Editor, and two members of The Grapevine staff. The General Policy and Publications Committee is serviced by three Trustees, The Grapevine Editor and the A.A. General Secretary.
Our General Office Committee is responsible for the business policy and effectiveness of that place. The A.A. General Secretary is charged with its executive management. The Grapevine Committee is responsible for the business conduct of The Grapevine. The Grapevine Editor is chairman of this committee. The Grapevine Editor and his voluntary staff are responsible for the editorial policy of the journal, the Editor having the final choice of what is printed. In case of conflict between editorial policy and general A.A. policy or tradition the matter will be decided by the General Policy and Publications Committee or the Foundation staff.
The General Policy and Publications Committee has the duty of settling those new questions of Headquarters policy which The Grapevine editor or the General Secretary cannot well decide alone, but which, in the judgment of the Committee, need not warrant a special meeting of the Foundation. The General policy and publications Committee is also charged with the editing, printing and distribution of all Headquarters books and pamphlets, new or old. This important Committee is intended to be a common Headquarters meeting ground where prompt action can be taken on policy question of medium importance. But it is understood by everyone that any decision important enough to greatly affect A.A. as a whole must be taken at a special or regular quarterly meeting of The Alcoholic Foundation. AT this level the Trustees have the final word.
This development of our internal structure has taken place slowly and always on the basis of experience and need. In like manner, our thinking about Foundation policies has undergone a gradual evolution. In fact it is a revolution, respecting the use of Foundation money and the status of outside enterprises like hospitalization, research, and alcohol education. Once we imagined we ought to fill the Foundation with huge sums financing, besides A.A., all sorts of outside projects. We thought in terms of money solicitation and money charity. The Foundation was formerly chartered to do all these things. But today, in common with most A.A. Groups, the Trustees have entirely abandoned such concepts. Never, do we think, should the Foundation finance or endorse any outside project, however worthy. Foundation money, we believe, should be spent for A.A. General Service purposes only. These purposes should always be universal in character, never of local or minor benefit. For some years now the Foundation has solicited no outside funds, and unless there comes a dire emergency, it will not solicit again. This is because the A.A. movement itself is becoming fully committed to the principle of self-support; we prefer to pay our own way. Neither should the Foundation become wealthy through large gifts; these will surely be declined. We hope A.A. Groups will continue to support the General Office, The Grapevine subscribers, The Grapevine and we believe that Foundation income from the book “Alcoholics Anonymous” will always provide us a prudent reserve against any foreseeable headquarters emergency. That is our money policy.
There must be few societies or organizations in the whole world whose General Service expenses are as modest as ours: One dollar a member a year of voluntary contributions. We therefore think that our necessary Headquarters Services should be the very best—that our few full time workers should be paid, not by charity standards but by business standards; that since most of us, thanks to A.A., earn excellent livings at business, we should not ask our special workers to do with less.
The Alcoholic Foundation is no longer seen as an institution or a moneyed charity, it has become, instead, The General Service Board for Alcoholics Anonymous, a collective conscience of our A.A. society. The Foundation’s responsibility now extends well beyond that of handling our few dollars and services. As the principal custodian of our tradition and policy it acts, usually through The Grapevine or General Office staffs, to inform the whole world of our A.A. message and point of view. THE GRAPEVINE, the “Voice of A.A. Experience” reaches out to A.A. members. The General Office, in cooperation with the General Policy Committee, conducts our public relations and is consulted in difficult intergroup situations. When serious questions arise, the Trustees may deal with them directly, making perhaps, a public statement. But no action is ever taken in the spirit of discipline or authority. For our Headquarters is a service only—not a government.
In the field of A.A. Tradition and overall policy, Dr. Bob and I still do function. We are frequently consulted on questions which arise. But we now feel that, while always glad to help, we should be less and less heard in A.A. councils. Only in this way can our Service Headquarters Custodians, Editors and Secretaries be accustomed to function, as they must one day, when we so-called “founders” are no more.
Meanwhile, our active arms of service have been developing their own methods and traditions. At the General Office the vast outcome of nine years exciting experience reposes in our files and in the heads of our two Secretaries. Because of their station at the heart of A.A. they are bound to have a broader view than most of us. Out of strenuous experience they have developed effective ways of handling the multitude of problems and situations that press for answers. They have an immense personal acquaintance that stretches all over the globe. With them a “crisis a day” is routine. We are coming to see that a permanently successful operation of the General Office will depend on the preservation of these accumulated experiences and contacts. Lest these immense assets be someday lost, we shall always need several assistant secretaries in training. And may we always remember that these secretarial servants of A.A. have a most strenuous vocation. They are entitled to our fullest appreciation and backing—theirs is no sinecure.
Being the most active spot in A.A., the New York General Office last year (1946) answered 15,000 pleas for help from alcoholics and their families; it shipped half a million pamphlets and 25,000 A.A. books; it had about 12,000 telephone calls; it prepared and shipped 3,000 Group lists; got out a new printing of the A.A. book; arranged for a Spanish translation of the A.A. pamphlet; saw 2,000 visitors; registered and wrote to 500 new Groups; arranged much publicity, notably the MARCH OF TIME film and the READER’S DIGEST piece; discussed the preparation of a full length movie; wrote innumerable letters to Groups about their problems and still found time to help the development of A.A. Groups in foreign countries.
All this was done by a staff of twelve people—three alcoholics and nine “nons.” It cost the A.A. Groups about $36,000, still averaging a dollar a member for 1946, a year of steeply rising expenses. Some A.A. Groups contributed much more than a dollar per capita, some much less. No A.A. dollars can be better spent than those sent the Foundation for General Office expenses. Dr. Bob and I want to thank the Groups for their loyal support. May it never lessen!
Our newest development, THE A.A. GRAPEVINE, has a like promise. It is one of the finest volunteer undertakings we have seen. Its 6,000 subscribers (1946) are to be found in every state of the Union and many foreign lands. Its Editor and volunteer staff burn oil many nights a month at a little room in Greenwich Village. Here, during the day, two full time workers look after THE GRAPEVINE routine and correspond with the network of GRAPEVINE reporters at home and abroad.
Like the earlier people who assembled the Foundation, the A.A. book and the Central Office, THE A.A. GRAPEVINE began two years ago among several newspaper-minded A.A. ‘s who thought we needed a monthly periodical. They were willing to contribute a little money and boundless effort to make it a success. At the beginning, this group of A.A. ‘s had no special authorization from anyone. They just took of f their coats and did a job, a job so well done that at the end of a year they found their paper in National distribution. There was no sponsoring nor much promoting. Like the A.A. book venture, the General Office, and the Foundation, THE A.A. GRAPEVINE became a part of A.A. life on its own effort and merit.
Arrived at this point, members of THE GRAPEVINE staff came to the Trustees to discuss the future of their publication. They also asked me to write some pieces and requested me to ascertain if the groups would like to have their periodical as the principal A.A. monthly journal. Hundreds of groups and individual subscribers came back with and enthusiastic “yes.” There was scarce a dissent. So, THE A.A. GRAPEVINE was incorporated and its beneficial ownership transferred to the Foundation.
As one of the Grapeviners recently put it, “We think that The A.A. Grapevine ought to become the ‘Voice of Alcoholics Anonymous’ bringing us news of each other across great distances and always describing what can be freshly seen in that vast and life-giving pool we call A.A. experience.” Never taking part in the controversial issues of religion, reform or politics, never seeking profit, never lending itself to commerce or propaganda, always mindful of our sole aim to carry the A.A. message to those who suffer from alcoholism—such is our ideal for The Grapevine.”
With these sentiments Dr. Bob and I heartily concur. We hope that A.A.’s everywhere will feel it to be their newspaper; that our able writers will contribute freely; that all Groups will send in news of their doings which may be of general interest; that THE GRAPEVINE will presently take its place in the minds of all A.A. ‘s as one of our essential general services close alongside the Foundation, the A.A. book and the General Office.
This concludes what I hope has proved a welcome account of our stewardship of your A.A. General Service Center at New York—The Alcoholic Foundation of Today.
Now, what the future? What about The Alcoholic Foundation of Tomorrow?
On coming pages I shall try to tell you of our thoughts on that subject.