By Dom Serafini

This is it! I’m fed up with trade organizations. I’ve lost count of how many I belong to. Possibly 15, but I’m not sure. The bills keep coming in and I pay automatically, as if they’ve collectively programmed me as a money machine.

While researching the subject, I discovered that, in the U.S. alone, there are some 50 trade organizations divided into: entertainment, television, communications and advertising industries. This is without counting the Internet, magazines, circulation and journalism.

The last straw, however, came from an organization that decided to raise my fee from $500 to $1,000 (luckily, there is always the “last straw”).

The letter announcing the 100 percent fee hike was my wake-up call. After receiving it, I had to sit down and, while staring at it, started to think: “What am I getting for the over $2,250 (and soon to balloon to $2,750) I’m paying in fees to all these associations?” “Very little indeed,” I had to admit.

Wouldn’t it be better to contribute that kind of money to Gillian Rose’s “The Rosemary Pencil Foundation,” which is helping children in Africa get an education? Reportedly, when Gillian (whom I call by her middle name, Angela, because it sounds Italian) got the same $1,000 increase note, she promptly resigned. Gillian, by the way, ran VideoAge’s London office when, in the mid ’80s, it was based in the U.K.

In the words of another member, commenting on the huge increase: “The fee is outrageous, but since I’m exempt, I’ll stay on. I agree, though, that the association doesn’t do anything for its members.” Stated another member: “It’s the only association I belong to, and since I had budgeted $1,000 for these kind of expenses, I think, I’ll stay in, even though I only participate in what they do once a year.”

One London-based association I belong to even stopped sending me their magazine and another stopped sending even a basic online newsletter.

So, after making a cursory mental list of the associations I pay to belong to, and realizing that it’s really “mental” to be a part of all of them, I decided to go on a canceling spree, with the exceptions of the London-based Royal Television Society (RTS), the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television (ACCT), and the Los Angeles-based Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (ATAS).

I’ve decided that if all the rest want me as a member, they have to pay me and not vice versa. After all, what do most of them do for those of us in the industry? Very little, indeed.

It is as though we members are at their service, and not vice versa. We are required to help at their various fundraising functions (they’re always in need of funds, and for what?), to become judges, to attend time-consuming meetings, to approve management salary increases. Again, what do they do for us?

Next time I’ll only join an organization if their motto is: “Ask not what you can do for your association; ask what your association can do for you.”

When I first joined most of the organizations, they were like one-man bands: Lean and mean, with a few members everyone knew personally and organized great get-togethers. Today, the same organizations have “boards,” “committees,” and layers-upon-layers of management. They’re becoming like post offices: bureaucratic labyrinths for Byzantine politics. A friend, who used to run one of these organizations quit after becoming fed up with a finicky board comprised of people who had nothing else to do.

When I was running for Italian political office, I asked two TV trade organizations to announce the news to its members, with the understanding that it could be helpful to the industry. One spokesperson answered that the organization couldn’t be involved with politics, and promptly invited Sen. Hillary Clinton to a function to speak publicly about… politics (and, implicitly, to talk about both her senatorial re-election and presidential candidacies); while at the other association, one of the usual out-of-work board members advised against it.

Now, let’s not bundle them all together. Out of the various associations, I like the RTS because of its fantastic seminars. I value ATAS also because of its publication and the fact that they’re responsive to members’ needs. I’m fond of the Canadian entertainment industry and the ACCT’s awards (even though the association needs someone who’s more awake to run it). I’ll keep the membership in ACINA, the North-America Association of Italian Journalists, but, for the life of me, I cannot find any redeeming value for any others.

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