Alcoholics Anonymous vs. Best Practices

This article about Alcoholics Anonymous is not about how they help alcoholics, but reviews their unusual management and organizational practices, which fly in the face of much conventional wisdom about what good nonprofit management looks like. As part of our Blue Avocado philosophy of challenging assumptions, let this article stimulate your thinking about your own assumptions.

What U.S. nonprofit do you know that has more than one million members, more than 55,000 local chapters, elects its leaders, and does no advertising or fundraising?

Answer: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

AA may be the largest and least visible nonprofit organization serving your community. Within just a few miles of Silicon Valley where this writer lives, there are 115 meetings per week. In Humboldt County - a rural area of California with a population of only 130,000 - there are 174 weekly meetings! And these numbers are replicated across the globe.

AA's twelve-step philosophy and meeting structures are well known to much of thepublic. This article touches briefly on some of the lesser-known organizational aspects of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Part of what makes AA interesting to other nonprofits is that many of their practices run counter to commonly accepted nonprofit "best practices." For example:

1. In contrast to the view that all-volunteer organizations are, almost by definition, small, local, and low-impact, Alcoholics Anonymous is a global all-volunteer organization. Meetings are organized by volunteer members. Only the publications division of AA (aagrapevine.org) has staff. As one Blue Avocado reader noted, "People do relatively small things (perhaps they manage the literature collection, or head a weekly meeting for a few months). They volunteer to represent their home groups at area organizational management meetings. Volunteerism is built into the steps, and into the literature. "It's made to be a healthy part of one's recovery."

2. While AA members work as "sponsors" to individual "sponsees," there's no divide between clients and service providers: most people inhabit both roles. From another reader: "The organization only exists and is supported through the individual support of each person served, which in turn creates the next service for a new person."

3. "Passing the hat" is frowned upon in most therapeutic group settings, but AA asks members to contribute a dollar at every meeting. One Blue Avocado reader wrote: "People only put $1.00 in the basket as it is passed around the meeting. From that small donation, rent for the meeting room, coffee supplies and materials are purchased. Whatever is left over (and it isn't much) gets divided between local, state and then the world office of AA."

4. Despite the desire of both commercial and nonprofit organizations to partner with AA, AA does not endorse any other organizations or products and maintains no alliances with other groups, no matter how closely they may be aligned with their mission. In this era of metrics-driven program evaluation, AA refuses to cooperate with any research study on its effectiveness.

5. AA engages in no outside fundraising, conducts no advertising campaigns, has no government contracts or corporate sponsorships. The national operation is funded through book sales . . . with the bible of AA, "Alcoholics Anonymous" selling for an affordable $7. AA has no spokespersons; and as of this writing in July 0f 2009, its national office has yet to issue a press release this year.

Not the only model

AA's model is not universally lauded, nor does AA provide the only model for dealing with alcoholism. The AA model does not help every alcoholic. The AA model requires no outside funding and requests minimal contributions from participants. Other models range from the drunk tank at your local police station to established, venerable clinics like the Betty Ford Center.

Its severest critics disparage and mock the twelve-step model; others are mystified by its "no marketing" policy; some point to the lack of control over sponsor behavior, and others question its flaunting of separation of church and state standards, noting the high participation of people (perhaps 1/3 of members) who attend meetings as a result of a court order.

Nonetheless, millions of recovering people can attest to the efficacy of Alcoholics Anonymous-- its positive impact on individuals, families and society is common knowledge. And its success serves as a reminder of the creativity and high impact of the nearly invisible all-volunteer nonprofits serving our communities.

Thanks ! to Blue Avocado readers who contributed comments to the writing of this article: Samantha C., Kate, Luis Lozano, Lindi Marti, Nzinga Misgana, Rebecca Moore, Billy White, Jr., and Darrel Wilson.

Martin Gorfinkel is a community volunteer in Silicon Valley, having retired from the technology company he founded and ran for 30 years.

Comments (41)

  • The donation is not necessarily a dollar. At some meetings, it is suggested to make any donation or none at all- just keep coming back. Some meetings also suggest a donation equivalent the cost of a drink- reminding members of the amount of money spent on alcohol in the past.

    Aug 17, 2009
  • I have great admiration for AA and appreciate all that makes it different. In fact, this is a lesson in the power of word-of-mouth marketing. However, I would admire them more if they would acknowledge and perhaps address what is purportedly a very poor rate of longlasting sobriety. High numbers of meetings and constituents equates to the tremendous need and also high rates of recidivism. An organization that stays the same and doesn't enhance its program for better results is definitely an organization run by volunteers.

    Aug 17, 2009
  • "We have a daily reprieve based on the maintenance of our spiritual condition."
    The point isn't to pile up time, it is to have a happy, healthly life one day at a time. Got any better goal?

    Aug 19, 2009
  • And, you have something that works better?

    Aug 25, 2009
  • One of the reasons that a claim can be made that there is a high rate of rates of recidivism is the nature of the illness. AA is about alcohol which is to say an addictive drug which is universally used and in some cases abused and is exploited for profit. Alcohol is a staple all over the world and has been a staple for centuries. Witness the Odyssey where reference is continously made toe the "wine red sea."
    Nevertheless, for perhaps 12% of the global population, perhaps more, alcohol can not be tolerated without frightening results. As such you have the countervailing tensions: a socially accepted drug that for some is suicidal when consumed. AA certainly helps millions but there are still those out there that feel as though they can have "just one more." This happens at the company picnic, the wedding reception, the ball game, the solitary business trip; events where the temptation is greatest. In my mind this one of the reasons that recidivism is high.
    When I left the treatment center twenty years ago, a Doctor told me "don't think that the world is going to stop drinking just because you found AA." He was right. The world did not stop drinking so I continue to go to meetings so I am not one of those tempted to have one more drink.

    Sep 03, 2009
  • I am unaware of any studies that demonstrate the "very poor rate of lasting sobriety". Mine has lasted close to 24 yrs. AA works.

    Sep 04, 2009
  • What a succinct and compelling comment. Thank you.

    Sep 04, 2009
  • Anonymous

    Agreed! 22 years here.

    Sep 04, 2013
  • I've got twenty-one years on continuous sobriety and I'm a 'baby' in my homegroup.

    Feb 25, 2010
  • Anonymous

    The program works for those who work it and it's been working since the publication of the "Big Book" in 1939. Those who come and try the program and end up relapsing are generally doing damage control without an honest and sincere desire to stop drinking or they simply haven't suffered enough yet to become entirely willing. If and when that changes for them, they will find the program works for them too, just like it's written. But the program is in the Book, not in the meetings. The meetings and the fellowship are important, but they only work when the program in the book is followed.

    Nov 08, 2010
  • Many thoughts in reading your piece.
    AA's reach goes well beyond the numbers you attributed to the US, although you do mention it as "global." This writer has participated in meetings in other countries and on the "high seas."
    You indicate that AA's twelve-step philosophy and meeting structures are "well-known" to much of the public. I'd suggest that there's as much misunderstanding and misinformation in the mix as not. Not so much well-known as well-opinioned or well-opinionated or well-stereotyped.
    It's interesting to me that you make reference to "best practices" among nonprofits as a contrast to those employed by AA. If I know anything about nonprofits other than AA (the arena in which I work) it is that there is precious little to define agreement on best practices as practiced. (If they were truly best practices, why wouldn't all nonprofits employ them?) I might suggest that there is some sense of so called conventional wisdom about best practices, but that's about it.
    To stay with this theme, it's my opinion that part of what bedevils a large portion of the nonprofit community is embodied by your use of the notion of a divide between clients and service providers. It's been my experience that this cleaving depersonalizes the so-called client and lionizes the so-called service provider. It seems to embody the old social worker approach of doing it for rather than with. So, it is a great relief for this person to escape any inclination in such a direction within AA. All we have to share in this fellowship is a clean & sober day, what we often call a daily reprieve from our disease dependent on our fit spiritual condition. And we do it without regard to super-imposed labels or trappings.
    Having said as much, maybe a good example of best practices is embodied by AA itself. Many people who benefit from the fellowship of AA, many times aver that the world would be a better place if people understood and lived by the principles of the program.
    You mention that another reader mentioned that "people do relatively small things" (with a couple of examples). Those small things comprise quality time for people who come together and seek to recover from a deadly disease, and they act as a wondrous leveler amongst us all. The whole notion of being in service, as we call it, is central to AA's approach to recovery from addiction. When I consider what most of my time as an addict occupied, it is another brilliant facet of this fellowship that I get to stay out of my own way, in effect, by reaching out to others.
    Maybe "passing the hat" shouldn't be frowned upon elsewhere, eh? It seems to work reasonsbly well for AA. By the way, the "national operation," as you call it, is suppported by contributions within AA as well as book sales. And, AA does not ask members "to contribute a dollar at every meeting." Every meeting makes mention of the seventh of 12 traditions, as follows: "Every AA group ought to be self-supporting, declining outside contributions."
    At the risk of overkill, here is that tradition in its long form. It strikes me as wise beyond measure. "The AA groups themselves ought to be fully supported by voluntary contributions of their own members. We think that each group should soon achieve this ideal; that any 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 olbligation whatever, is unwise. Then, too, we view with much concern those AA treasuries which continue, beyond prudent reserves, to accumulate funds for no stated AA purpose. Experience has often warned us that nothing can so surely destroy our spiritual heritage as futile disputes over property, money,and authority."
    Now that strikes me as a "best practice." The corollary in other nonprofits would seem to be whether they pursue outside resources solely to remain true to their missions. There is documentation aplenty to suggest that this is a challenge. And, when factoring in the abundance of nonprofit mission statements that say little other than their own version staying active (anything but a best practice), I'm persuaded that they could learn something from AA, if they wanted to.
    Since the above is based on one of the traditions, may I suggest that you do some further research, since you were motivated in the first place, and study the 12 Traditions of AA. You made no mention of them in your piece. The 12 Steps are often characterized as how the program works; the 12 steps are why it works. The 12 steps would mean little without the 12 traditions. They comprise AA's best practices, if you will.
    It's intriguing that you mention that "commercial and nonprofit organizations" want to partner with AA. Seems like the subject for more research, although you might have hit on at least one reason why AA remains obdurate. Speaking for myself, and bearing in mind my participation in both AA and among other nonprofits, your use of some jargon in the latter realm confirms for me the wisdom of steering clear.
    I winced at "metrics-driven" program evaluation. This represents one of the consistent failings of the non-AA nonprofit sector in my opinion, that is, the quest for gibberish-as-authentic-impressive-program-speak. I cannot imagine how this phenomenon makes that sector attractive to anyone other than the apparently insecure practitioners in its realm.
    This is not to say, by the way, that AA doesn't have its own patois. It does, but when people offer up examples, it usually leads to a reminder that the fellowship operates on the basis of principles and not personalities, thereby pulling discussion and commentary back to the steps & traditions.
    Perhaps you implied it in part in refering to "flaunting of separation of church and state standards," but you left out one of the prevailing focal points for the machinations of the many critics, to wit, the perception that it is a "religious" program and participants are forced to ingest its dogma. (Take a look at some fairly recent attacks on Salon.com, if you want to see some examples)
    Maybe, for that matter, you were coming from such a perspective when you associated court-ordered participants with the program. Should I conclude that the court-ordered ones represent the state; the program the church? If so, this seems misquided. (For that matter, one might wonder why so many courts order so many in AA's direction? Is this flaunting the divide as well?)
    I'll leave with this offering. My addiction as practiced was a study in selfishness punctuated by my inability to stop using mind and mood altering substances, liquid or otherwise. When I got so sick so as to be immobilized and to experience what I have learned to describe as spiritual bankruptcy (referred to as pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization in our literature), I grabbed hold of what was offered me in AA -- the opportunity to supplant chemically-induced insanity with reliance on a power beyond myself as a guide for using sensible principles to live my life in a reasonably productive and always grateful manner.

    Aug 17, 2009
  • Your comments and analysis are interesting and insightful. I can tell that you've found a lot of benefit through AA and you're comfortable with its structure. I especially liked your comments about the way that service-providers and clients may move in and out of these roles or even hold them simultaneously. I strongly agree with this way of looking at service. In my own field, respect for those receiving services is key to success in providing services. (I work with deaf people.) I really liked your comments, here:
    "To stay with this theme, it's my opinion that part of what bedevils a large portion of the nonprofit community is embodied by your use of the notion of a divide between clients and service providers. It's been my experience that this cleaving depersonalizes the so-called client and lionizes the so-called service provider. It seems to embody the old social worker approach of doing it for rather than with. So, it is a great relief for this person to escape any inclination in such a direction within AA. All we have to share in this fellowship is a clean & sober day, what we often call a daily reprieve from our disease dependent on our fit spiritual condition. And we do it without regard to super-imposed labels or trappings."
    I wonder if you'd mind me quoting you in my casual writing? (I mean to start a blog.) Christine design4waves@yahoo.com

    Aug 17, 2009
  • Thanks for this thoughtful comment, Christine. Actually, neither the primary writer of the article (Martin Gorfinkel) nor I have direct experience with AA, but that doesn't stop us from seeing its impact on many individuals and through them on the world.

    Please always feel free to quote from Blue Avocado, as long as you attribute direct quotes. And we are pleased to have people reprint articles, too . . . in fact, nearly every Blue Avocado article is re-used and reprinted in other nonprofit publications . . . which is part of what we're here for! Just send us a note requesting reprint permission, which we can usually grant within 24 hours. Thanks again for your thoughts!

    Aug 17, 2009
  • Jan - If you'll read carefully, you'll see that Christine's reply is offered in response to mine, the third and lengthy one. She takes a quote directly from my response. And, if you do read my piece, it does convey that I do have experience in both the AA realm and much of the rest of the nonprofit domain. It looks likes she's asking if she can quote a portion of my reply, but maybe as far as this goes, you consider it quoting from B.A. Perhaps you'll clarify -- and read my response through. Maybe you and the primary author will have reason to respond to my entry as well.

    Aug 17, 2009
  • Dear Anonymous, thank you for the clarification about Christine's comment!

    In reading your two comments, I'm realizing that perhaps one of the key points of the article didn't get through: that the "best practices" of conventional nonprofits aren't best practices . . . they're conventional practices, practices that may be good for some but not for others, practices that are often parlayed by misguided funders and consultants.

    Some of the practices of AA are precisely ones that other organizations should learn from and perhaps institute themselves. Thanks for adding to this conversation. Jan

    Aug 17, 2009
  • Anonymous, Puhleeeese.   Your own employment of the phrase  "at the risk of overkill" sums up this meandering , exhausting comment.  The original article's intent was to show how AA has thrived sans  adherence to  conventional wisdom about best practices.  The  nit-pickiness  of your comment comes off as from someone with an ax to grind.  Not the best way to spread the word about the very real psychological and practical value  of AA. 

    Aug 18, 2009
  • To 8/18 Anonymous Puhleeese: I agree. The benefits of the AA, Al-Anon, Alateen and other 12-Step programs succeed by following the 11th Tradition, "Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion..." I am concerned that a wordy harangue in response to an author whose initial intention was to praise the program would not attract someone who may need our help.

    Aug 18, 2009
  • Anonymous

    Amen!

    Aug 20, 2013
  • My mother was in AA for much of her adult life - the sober part. She was one of those mysterious senior people at a regional and national level. She financed her travel, went to meetings in Wash. D.C. and still attended local meetings, still had sponsees, still talked to her sponsor and stayed clean and sober through it all, the last 40 years of her life. It may not be perfect, but everyone in AA does the work. Thanks to all of them.

    Aug 17, 2009
  • Interesting overview, thank you.
    By the way, the AA public website also has good information (including 2009 press releases), and the 990 does too.

    Aug 17, 2009
  • In all of this discussion, there's no mention of Alanon, for those living with or affected by the behaviors of an alcoholic. It follows the same (but adapted) twelve steps and organizational principles as AA. From my own experience, I can attest to its effectiveness in changing the ways a co-dependent (some jargon) responds to the alcoholic, and helps the co-dependent examine his or her own background and experiences to explain those responses.
    JJG

    Aug 18, 2009
  • Characterizing AA as a church misses the mark -- specifically, the very real distinction between spirituality and organized religion. Bill W (one of AA's founders) wrote about the program's ability to be helpful to atheists -- all we needed, he said, was for the sufferer to acknowledge the possibility that there might some power somewhere greater than himself. Others have said that the name "God" is an acronym for "group of drunks." They have found a transformative power in the group process itself and don't need to connect it to a particular religious tradition or metaphysical system.
    In addition to all the 12-step programs -- for narcotics, gambling, overeating, sex -- there are a number of others rooted in the power of people who have "been there" to help one another -- the Association for Retarded Citizens, the National Alliance for Mental Illness, other disease-specific self-help support groups. While many have gone beyond AA to become 501(c)(3) organizations with staffs and boards, their real grounding remains the capacity of human beings to help one another.

    Aug 19, 2009
  • Anonymous

    I have an ex spouse whom I (and several friends and more than a couple therapists) tried to get into the program for years. She refused to attend more than a meeting or two, always claiming "those drunks are nothing but a bunch of losers, and I can stop any time I want." Thing was, she was going thru half a fifth of vodka / night, battering me then blacking out, wrecking our credit, blah blah blah. Oh well, I divorced her (and she took more than half my life savings, plus the lawyers pretty much got the other half). But at least I'm free of the worst of it (though I'll never recover from the financial agony she caused.... Thing is, I tried AlAnon to deal with my own issues of co-dependence. The group was in Silicon Valley, an extremely diverse community, and the meeting was packed with Indians, Asians, many people from foreign lands where Christianity is unlikely to be a major force. So in site of the diversity of the group, which I found promising, the complete turnoff was that the leads were wear-their-religion-on-their-sleeves Christians. All of their metaphor and analogies somehow tied back to Jesus and how the Lord had saved them from boozing etc. It wasn't "Higher Power", it was "Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior." The Indians and Asians kept silent, so who knows, maybe they were converted Christians too. Though I sincerely doubt it. But the clincher was at the end of the meeting when we were all asked to stand and hold hands and recite the Lord's Prayer. None of the Indians nor Asians said a peep. Nor did I (though I came from deep Christian religious roots so I can flawlessly recite the Lord's Prayer in at least 3, maybe 4 languages.) I went back a few times, but I couldn't stomach what was essentially a Christian lecture about Jesus, instead of anything remotely related non-secular "Higher Power". I went to other group meetings, but they were all pretty much the same, especially the Lord's Prayer at the end. So I don't know about AA. But from an AlAnon point of view, it's kindof strange that a group that claims to be "spiritual" has so many Christian references, especially in an extremely religiously diverse place like Silicon Valley....

    Jun 29, 2011
  • In addition to not making a separation between service provider and reciever, AA also has going for it a complete buy-in from all the volunteers and supporters. Remember the old fundraising adage: people [only] give to organizations that are saving lives or changing lives. All of the donors to AA (its members) have experienced first hand its life-saving and changing effects. Talk about engaging donor passion. If all of our organizations could convince our donors and volunteers that the work we are doing is as important as AA is to its members (of which I am one) then we would never have to complain about fundraising, getting help or promoting our organizations.
    The question then becomes how do we get our volunteers and donors to be as passionate about whatever it is we do as AA members are? And here also I think AA has something to teach us. It works in small groups of people sharing their experience. Sharing how the organization has changed and saved their lives and explaining that this too could work for you if you will do what we did, you will get benefits that we have gotten.

    Aug 19, 2009
  • The principle of anonymity reminds us that each of us is responsible for maintaining the whole. We have a tradition which tells us that no one can do it for us. We who have spent much of our lives being irresponsible must now take responsibility for maintaining the organization which is saving our lives.

    Aug 19, 2009
  • Jan, this was a very good topic. I am very grateful to A A, because it has saved my life. I am not involved in AA but in another 12 Step program based on the principles of AA, Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous. Do you remember how obese I was when you met me? and do you remember when I lost the wieght? and thanks to the principles of AA, and it's program of recovery I am still in a normal size body today. Do you know of anyone who can lose weight and keep it off? I don't, unless they are in recovery through a 12 Step Program. I have maintained a 110 lb weight loss for 10 years, and I continue to work this program one day at at time. Thanks for blueavocado, it's my way of being in touch with the nonprofit community. Take care, Rosa.

    Aug 19, 2009
  • Rosa, how terrific to hear from you! It's so, so rare for people to be able to maintain significant weight loss. What a testament to YOU. Jan

    Aug 19, 2009
  • Yes, it's so rare, that NO academics, despite decades of trying, have been able to find a diet program that enables the majority of people to keep weight off for more than two years. Only a tiny majority manage it, though millions are spent helping others try again and again. Studies show that dieting is highly associated with weight GAIN over time. The bias against fat people is so ingrained that instead of accepting that some people simply have a higher weight range that's normal for them, the diet industrial complex keeps chugging along.
    Food is needed to live; alcohol is not; compulsive eating is therefore a very different thing to grapple with. In studies, diets triggered compulsive behaviors and psychological problems in subjects. Not only do fat subjects who lose weight regain, but thin subjects made to gain weight also return to being thin. Weight and height are the most genetically linked traits. And researchers have only begun to understand all the complex physiological components involved in hunger, satiation and metabolism. Read The New York Times' Gina Kolata's "Rethinking Thin" (among others) for more information.

    Aug 20, 2009
  • Martin,
    Your evaluation of AA from the outside rings pretty accurate for me. I have been a member for more than one third of the fellowship's existence and the distributed nature of its operation is really quite remarkable. I have worn a driven corporate hat at times but attendance at the monthly group "conscience" meetings that govern our local group are a step into a slower paced, deliberate, sometimes contentious activity in which even the slightest matter must stand to the test of group approval. It moves with square wheels but the result seems to be a constant; an environment where many, many folks achieve what they have not been able to find on their own.
    Yes, some groups have many court-mandated attendees; most do not. Even so, those mandated will either stay or go as they wish and if they later return without that directive paper we are all the better for it.
    My experience over nearly 5000 AA meetings is there is a driven diligence not to let the business of outside affect what we do. I remember two decades ago one man stood to announce that a local (and universally well regarded) rehab was having organizational and financial difficulties. A more seasoned member immediately inserted that that issue was NOT AA business and we should not go any further. We did not and it was then I learned that there is a precious wall that surrounds the efforts of us in AA to help with an unaltered recovery message.
    There are, have been and will be many fine efforts to help those affected with the addictive diseases. NIAAA's research efforts within NIH are exemplary. My scientific voice, now 50 years since my PhD, supports all honest endeavors but I remain committed to that place that has sustained me for 26 years.
    Regards
    MH

    Aug 21, 2009
  • Interesting dialogue. As both a professional and practitioner in organization development and learning and a long time member of AA, I've thought a lot about the central principles of it's success. Chief among those is the incredible latitude it allows individuals. Sure there are traditions and steps and principles, but these are nothing more than process monitors. Each member is free to do whatever they please with generous and extensive feedback along the way about what works and what doesn't. Seems to me the freedom it permits allows for personal accountability, an infinite number of ways for people to practice it, and no small amount of anarchy. In a nutshell, the processes defy turning it into a "canned" approach though admittedly, many members do insist on trying to "can" it.The results is highly adaptive and highly tolerant. As a result, people thrive.Lessons for organizations? Try not to kill the spirit, soul and flow of things by imposing too much structure, and too many rules and requirements. R

    Aug 24, 2009
  • This article and the follow up comments illustrate the strengths of AA's voluntary, loosely led structure. Members are passionate and devoted to the work for decades. While AA groups and AA seem to defy the traditional practices of nonprofits (whether they are best or merely conventional) I want to throw one wrench into the discussion. Supporting the work of AA are many other nonprofits, often called Alano Societies. These organizations own the buildings, employ custodians, coordinators, and cooks, put on conferences and fellowship events. They have assets, contributed and earned income, boards of directors, and insurance. A quick search on Guidestar found 353 organizations with the word Alano in their name. I know from work at a capcity building organization that Alano Societies have the same kinds of challenges as non-AA related organizations - board fdevelopment, building problems, capital campaigns, revenue shortfalls, cash flow, etc.

    Aug 24, 2009
  • Interesting article. I am a member andjust to let you know that AA does employ service professionals other than at the Grapevine. General Service Office in New York. We also have a Board of Trustees. Our service structure is an inverted triangle. Whereas, the members instruct the Trustees on the "management" and everyone has a voice thru their home group.

    Aug 25, 2009
  • I love the discussion above - some of it is sooo alcoholic! My own experience with 27 years of sobriety is that the drop out rate, as described above, is, on the contrary, low not high. I recently went to a memorial service for a member and about 200 AAers showed up - most of whom I got sober with and almost all of whom had 25 - 45 years of sobriety. So my experience, in a large urbane area, is they we keep coming back.
    EKM

    Sep 02, 2009
  • My name is Gerry and I am an alcoholic. I almost lost it all -- my life, my wife, my sons, my career, my self-esteem, my Higher Power. As I type this I celebrate 17 years, 5 months and 14 days of continuous sobriety. When I hit my bottom so many wanted to treat me with inpatient drugs and counseling. Fortuanately, my family doctor recommended a monitored weaning process, counseling and AA participation.
    AA is not for everybody. AA is not a business. AA is voluntary. The reason Judges send offenders to AA is because it works. IF YOU WANT IT.
    I think that volunteer groups and organisations should use AA's strucure as a model. If they have something worthwhile, they will flourish. If not, they deserve to wither and die.
    AA works. Gerry P.

    Sep 02, 2009
  • It's simple. If we continue to drink we end up in jail, in psychiatric hospitals, in the morgue. If we go to AA and follow the Steps we don't drink and we live good lives. How many other volunteer organizations can offer that?

    Sep 02, 2009
  • Anonymous

    I've been a member of AA in good standing for 14 years. I've enjoyed reading the responses. I'm not sure what "best practices" are in the non-profit world. I do know that when conventional thinking is applied to AA, it doesn't work. There is nothing that will disrupt a group of drunks more than discussion about money, property or prestige. We seem to persist in spite of ourselves. Every group in AA is a spiritual entity with the primary purpose of carrying our message to those who still suffer from alcoholism. The group can be as small as two and as large as AA as a whole. When I impose what I know about government, business, education or any other mainstream institution onto AA, there is immediate backlash, externally and internally. I have learned how to become a member of a democratic society by participating, knowing I could never be kicked out, no matter how outrageous. I've learned too, that my "good ideas" are not always the best ideas for the group. Our first tradition states that individual recovery depends on AA unity. I liked the analogy of square wheels, business in AA moves slooooowly. But yes, there is business. There are no dues or fees, but each group has expenses, from rent for a meeting place to salaries and benefits for our employees at the home office in New York. We do have to consider what self-support means. A dollar in the basket hasn't cut it for many years. In looking at the cost of running the General Service Office, the Area function, the District function, the Central Office or Intergroup and the meeting itself, I need to put $5.73 in the basket each week. This is derived on a very individual basis, depending on local costs and number of members in the group. It's a lot more than a buck, but still such a small amount. The success of AA is well known, the threat of danger to the organization is not from outside. The real threat is from the inside. AA is suffering economically on all levels, and that stems from the ignorance of what self-support really is. Another point of danger is the dilution of singleness of purpose. When we lose sight of what we are about, we weaken and become less effective at reaching drunks. The traditions were our founders' best attempt at keeping the principles of recovery alive for as long as possible. I would think these principles would be beneficial to any non-profit. The truth is, if you don't need AA, it's difficult to know about who we are, where we are, what we do and what we don't do. Why would you? But to our friends who see us from the outside, and like what they see, I commend your willingness to shed a positive light on what we do. Your endorsement and support go far in carrying our message in whatever capacity. If one person reads this article and finds they are interested in learning more about the program of recovery from alcoholism, I say job well done, and thank you, you may have just saved a life from unspeakable misery and despair.

    Jun 30, 2011
  • Anonymous

    The AA organization model is described in the book The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, by Ori Brafman & Rod A. Beckstrom. It's a great example of a successful decentralized organization. Good to consider for nonprofits.

    Jul 12, 2011
  • Anonymous

    Pretty nice overview of AA's non-profit operation. About the court-sentenced offenders, though. AA's are very divided about that. Many of us do not want any association with law enforcement, for the simple reason that that might drive away potential members. And there is no "seperation of church and state" issue- we're not a church, and many of us-including myself- are essentially atheists who have made liberal allowances for AA's Higher Power references. Non-religious people should have no trepidation about AA on those grounds. It's a big tent with lots of open space.

    Nov 08, 2012
  • I recently attended the 80th "birthday celebration of AA in Atlanta. Must have been 70-80,000 members and Alanon members in attendance well over 100 countries. When the "sobriety countdown" took place, more than 100 members with fifty years or more of sobriety were still standing. The longest sobriety among those "oldtimers" belonged to Mel B. of Toledo. I doubt anyone in attendance at the Atlanta convention would contest the proposition that AA creates miracles of recovery around the world and in your hometown.

    I would like to second the comment made here by "R" The main reason AA works so well is that the only rule is there are no rules. It is impossible for a recalcitrant, defiant alcoholic to argue with that so they stick around. Another reason is AAs who have been around a while and know the ropes don't give advice. They share their experience, strength and hope with newcomers who can take what they want of it and leave the rest, often for another day.

    AA's experience demonstrates that anarchy (the absence of forcible government) can accomplish much. AA seems to prove that the nation-state and forcible government are unnecessary evils--and way too expensive.

    Sep 14, 2015
  • Anonymous

    Thanks entirely to AA, I got (and stayed) sober at 22, back in 1987 (I had quit drinking 'on my own' for 2 years between 19 and 21 but within a year of taking it back up my life was a mess). I attended meetings for the first 9 years but never really got connected with AA where I have lived for the last 19 years, but I still credit AA with saving my life and I celebrate and share my sobriety.

    AA gave me my first experience with volunteering as well as serving on a committee. First I heard of Robert's Rules of Order! The 12 Traditions are really the glue that keeps AA together, just as the 12 Steps are what keeps the individual alcoholic together.

    I think the notion of 'giving back' is the secondary gift I got along with my sobriety. Even if I am not giving back to alcoholics, I feel a hole in my life if I am not helping someone and that has contributed to my decision to seek my career in the non-profit sector.

    No two AA meetings are alike and if you know someone (or are someone) who tried it and had a bad experience, all I can say is, "Keep coming back" and try another meeting. First one I went to was not for me but I met the person who told me about the meeting that became my 'home group' and those folks were like family to me.

    Dec 17, 2015

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