Fee based networking groups are normally professionally managed and will either assess a periodic dues for membership or have an a la carte model where each event and service has a fee. In comparison, free networking groups are generally organized to take advantage of free facilities and are run by volunteers. Each model has unique benefits, so it is up to the individual networker to determine which method best serves their need.
As you look to join a new group consider these thoughts regarding fee versus free networking groups. Like most general discussions, there are no absolutes and you with likely find some exceptions to these thoughts.
- Organizer motives - Building and sustaining a networking group takes a lot of time and energy. If they are not getting paid, how is the organizer benefiting? Maybe they want to get people into their facility to create awareness and drive referrals or sell product. Are you comfortable with supporting that interest?
- Participant obligations - How are you at serving on committees, taking a leadership position or becoming a volunteer? Most free and a few fee networking groups are sustained through volunteerism. While it is an investment, volunteers have additional opportunities to build intimacy with like minded peers.
- Leadership variability - Membership and programming often ebbs and flows in direct correlation to the ability and commitment of the current leadership. Just as well known and charismatic leaders can bring organizations to new heights, the installation of lesser leaders can begin a downward spiral.
- Member commitment - When you pay for a membership, how does your commitment change? What if the amount is significant? Since networking is best when you are around like minded people. Do you want to be around people who are highly committed or marginally committed?
The question of whether to join free or fee networking is really about determining the value of your time and that of participation. A payment is made in either case. Depending on our choice, we pay with either our time, our money, or our results...or more likely some combination of all three.