Chris Anderson published Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business last month and it got me thinking about some of the business/technical associations I associate with.
Over the years, I've been a member of a few groups: IEEE, IASA, AJUG, NYJSIG, etc etc. I'm also familiar with some of the major professional organizations: PMI, OMG, IETF, W3C, JCP. Some of these were free (IETF, AJUG, NYJSIG) while others required membership dues (IEEE, OMG, PMI). Some started out free and transitioned to membership dues (IASA).
In some of these organizations, the membership fees very clearly show what they go towards. For example, in the IEEE, you get a magazine, group rates on health insurance, etc. In others, I'm not sure what the dues go for: IASA.
Specifically, for architecture and programming groups, I think that the price for admission should be free and have tiers for additional membership if you want magazines, key chains, etc. This will serve to increase membership while keeping leadership in a purely voluntary capacity.
So this ends up being more closely aligned with open source "societies" like the apache foundation where anyone can be part of the community, join listservs, register for conferences, etc.