Frequently Asked Financial Questions

Money and the Central Office

Money is frequently a very touchy subject in Alcoholics Anonymous. A.A. tradition requires that A.A. groups and service entities decline contributions from sources outside of A.A., and not accumulate more money than is needed plus a reserve against unforeseen expenses. As an entity that requires a great deal of money to operate, the Central Office and its staff are sensitive to the sensibilities of the groups it serves, and offers this page to answer some of the more frequently asked questions about the Central Office’s finances, and to offer our annual financial picture for your review.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Central Office’s Finances

Does your financial (and other!) policy adhere to A.A.’s Twelve Traditions?
Yes.

In keeping with A.A.’s Sixth Tradition, the Central Office is registered as a non-profit corporation organized under the laws of the State of Texas. Should it become a hinderance rather than a help to the groups that support it, the Central Office can be dissolved by the groups.

In keeping with A.A.’s Seventh Tradition, the Central Office is fully self-supporting through the sale of literature and related products, and through the voluntary donations of A.A. members and groups. It does not accept donations from people or organizations outside of A.A.

In keeping with A.A.’s Eighth Tradition, the Central Office employs special workers who are compensated financially for their services, but their services do not include traditional “12th Step” work of working with alcoholics in need. All 12th Step calls that come to the Central Office are handed to sober A.A. members who have volunteered to handle these calls.

See more on the Central Office’s place within the Traditions.

Does the Central Office have paid employees?
Yes. These employees are responsible for the day-to-day operations of the office. They manage inventory, stock shelves, answer phones, stuff envelopes, prepare orders, coordinate 12th Step calls, pass inquiries to service committees like Public Information or Treatment Centers, maintain volunteer and contact lists, and serve as “who-to-talk-to” coordinators for all of A.A.’s activites in its service area.

Why can’t I find out what each employee is paid?
At its heart, the Central Office is a business. It is a non-profit business with a service and spiritual aim, but it remains a business. As such, it is important to conduct its affairs the way any business would.

In any other business, confidential personnel information, like home addresses, Social Security numbers, and compensation rates are held closely to prevent unauthorized disclosure. The Central Office adheres to this principle in protecting the privacy of its employees, and will not release confidential data about them, including pay scales for individual employees.

The Central Office does release aggregated salary information in its monthly financial statements in the Coffee Break newsletter and in the 2003 Annual Report posted on this website. In addition, while the financial reports contain aggregated line-items for many of the Central Office’s expenses, generally speaking, detailed information about money spent by the Central Office is available upon request. The Central Office’s special workers will be happy to discuss any aspect of the Office’s operation with you, and provide as much detail as ethically possible.

Where does all this money come from?
The money used to finance the Central Office’s day-to-day operations comes from two primary sources:

  • Literature sales
  • Donations from the A.A. groups it serves

In 2003, these two sources accounted for over 90% of the money used to pay for the Central Office. Also important to the Central Office is the generous support of individual members of A.A. who contribute financially, outside of their groups’ support.

Where does all this money go?
The money generated by all sources of income is spent to cover all of the overhead expenses associated with running an office. These expenses include rent, telephone lines, office supplies, salaries for its paid employees, insurance (such as workers’ compensation insurance to protect its employees in case of on-the-job injury), and all the other incidental expenses that come with running an office.

In 2003, the two biggest single line-item expenses were literature purchases and salaries, together accounting for just over 75% of expenses.

Is the Central Office profitable?
No. It barely breaks even.

For all of 2003, the Central Office recorded an operating profit of just over $1,400, on operating expenses hovering at $100,000 (not a typo, one hundred thousand dollars). While $1,400 may sound like a lot of money, it’s important to note that in June, 2003, the Central Office posted an operating loss of over $2,000. This means that a single bad month will wipe out the entire profit from 2003.

While the Central Office does not do business intending to accumulate money the way a normal for-profit business does, it is an inescapable fact that running the Office requires lots of money, and that money has to come from somewhere. This is the simple reality.

Why sell literature at a profit? Why not at or even below cost?
The Central Office prices literature the way it does so that it can cover the operating costs associated with running the office. Since literature sales accounted for over 70% of the Office’s income in 2003, literature mark-up is a vital source of the money that’s used to run the Office. Selling at a smaller mark-up, or taking a loss on some items, isn’t financially possible given the the Central Office’s current resources. With an increase in support from the groups it serves to cover the difference, the Central Office could look at steps to cut literature prices in such a way as to not endanger the Central Office’s financial health.

Why not sell other things like book covers, speaker tapes, keychains, t-shirts, etc.? The Dallas guys do!
We recognize that each intergroup or central office is free to carry on its own affairs, and the Dallas Intergroup has made a financial decision to carry non-Conference-approved items in its inventory. As a consequence, some of their literature prices are lower than those in Fort Worth.

At the same time, it has been repeatedly made clear by the groups served by the Fort Worth Central Office that those groups don’t want the Office selling non-Conference-approved items. The only exception to that rule are the “chips” offered as tokens for various lengths of sobriety by virtually all local groups. Because the Central Office exists at the discretion of, directly serves, and answers to, the groups in its area, the Central Office does not carry non-Conference-approved material. While doing so might enable the Central Office to increase revenue (and possibly lower literature prices for things like Big Books), the groups don’t want that done.

What is all this prudent reserve stuff about?
A.A.’s Seventh Tradition suggests that we maintain a “prudent reserve,” an account of money to be used “just in case.” The Central Office’s prudent reserve is almost empty; as of February, 2004, it stood at less than $400.

The A.A. guideline document produced by A.A. World Services, Inc., suggests a prudent reserve for a central office or intergroup be fixed somewhere between one and twelve months’ operating expenses. In 2003, the suggestion was made and generally agreed upon at a conference of intergroups and central offices that a six month prudent reserve is generally most appropriate.

The Central Office has adopted six months’ reserve as its financial goal. This means, in practical terms, that the Central Office has a goal of putting enough money into savings that it can operate at “full steam” for six months on no income, continuing to pay the rent, the people, the literature, for six months. Financially, this comes to $50,000 (yes, fifty thousand dollars).

Do you have or even need a prudent reserve?
A tiny one, and yes. Every A.A. organization needs a prudent reserve to protect it from unforseen expenses and give it the financial flexibility it needs to carry out its primary spiritual mission. While it is unwise to permit the accumulation of more money than needed, it is also unwise to permit our groups and services to constantly struggle when doing so can be avoided.

Why aren’t better financial statements available electronically for years prior to 2003?
Electronic financial statements for years prior to 2003, and for the elapsed months of 2004, are not available because the Central Office does not keep financial records in electronic formats. As of this writing (February, 2004), financial statements are kept manually on old-fashioned ledger paper. Volunteers are working with the Office’s special workers to make the financial reporting process faster and more accessable, and we hope to have a process created to regularly post financial statements online very soon.

Is the Supporting Member Program really necessary?
Yes.

Without the support of the A.A. groups it serves, the Central Office couldn’t pay its bills. With donations from groups accounting for almost 20% of the Central Office’s revenue, donations from groups represent a major part of the puzzle that is funding our Central Office.

The down side is that group contributions from month to month are highly variable, and with no significant prudent reserve (see above), the Central Office depends on individual members to make up the difference. In 2003, for example, group contributions varied by as much as $1,850 on a month-to-month basis. But the truth is that while donations from groups vary considerably month to month, expenses don’t, and they don’t disappear just because the donations do. The rent, phone bills, and special workers must still be paid. Postage and office supplies must be bought; taxes must be paid. Without an increase in steady funding from some source, each month sees the possibility that these obligations will not be met.

The alternatives to meeting our financial responsibilities are to raise literature prices, raise donations from groups, or raise donations from individual A.A. members. Most members and groups would like to see literature prices stay as low as possible, so that A.A.’s printed message is available as affordably as possible to the widest number of alcoholics in need. Many groups already contribute what they can, and are themselves in a critical financial situation. Thus, we seek the support of individual A.A. members to help meet the spiritual and logistical goals of the Central Office through their regular financial support.