Carter asked in comments: Are professional organizations like RWA, HWA, SFWA, or NWU worth the money? Aside from networking and name exposure, are they actually doing anything worth while for their members?
I've been a member of RWA (three years) and SFWA (one month), but I didn't qualify to join MWA or HWA. I know a little about other writer organizations, like NINC and AG, but not enough to speak about them with authority.
Writer organizations are wonderful for writers who want to meet their favorite authors. All the big annual conferences are a gaggle of famous faces, and they will happily sign books for you, especially if you buy them there. There's also that nice local chapter meeting/luncheon for which you can dress up and go to and hang out with other writers while you eat bad chicken entrees and pass out bookmarks.
If you love having someone tell you how to write, you've hit the jackpot: writer organizations are workshop/seminar factories. You can't belong to one without getting sucked into at least four or five of those things a year. You can also go away for a week to one of those college workshop/retreats and let a famous writer, editor or hasbeen tear your work apart (this costs extra -- a lot extra -- and you usually have to apply for it like a job.)
I'm guessing a lot of you are like me, though, and think that's all bullshit. So let's stop thinking like fans and talk about the real career benefits.
RWA offers only one: the opportunity to pitch at their conferences. Agents and editors from major publishers go to many of these (mainly they go to RWA's annual national conference) and the editors will take appointments for one-on-one pitching (I can't say if the agents do or not. They didn't when I was a member.)
You don't have to join RWA to pitch an editor at a con, however. You can simply go to whatever con they're scheduled to be at and pay the non-member rate. And given RWA's current campaign to censor their membership, I'd recommend not joining. The Sisters have stepped way out of line.
SFWA did not offer editor appointments six years ago, and you had to be a published SF author to join them. I've avoided those people for six years, but maybe they've changed. Any SFWA members out there care to report on the present state of your org and the benefits they offer? Same goes for members of HWA and MWA -- tell us what benefits you enjoy.
If you consider writer organization awards valuable, you should join the respective organization and prepare to do some heavy campaigning via the organization's con circuit (particularly for SFWA awards, which are highly politic.) I don't think any award sells many books, but the trophy does look nice on your mantelpiece.
When you look at a writer's organization, remember that it is set up to make money off you. You pay to join and you pay annual dues. You pay to attend meetings and cons. You pay for ads in the org's magazine. You contribute to various fund raisers. They say it only costs $50 - $100 per year in dues, but you have to add in all the extras you pay for. To be an active member in RWA, for example, runs around $3K to $5K a year (that would cover attending 12 local chapter meetings, 2 regional cons, RT annual and RWA National, plus contest entry fees and other expenses.)
You can work your way up the ranks of your writer org and eventually be comped for con appearances, hotels, airfare, speaking fees, teaching workshops and so forth. If you want to make money off other writers, it may take a while, but watch the upper echelon, do what they do, and no doubt you'll get there.
Whatever organization that you consider joining, ask questions like: "What do I get? Can I pitch my work? Do you offer group insurance? Legal aid?" Etc. If all you get are a membership badge and a monthly or quarterly magazine marketing other writers to you, then I'd suggest taking the money and use it instead for postage to mail out more submissions.