The qualifications were, you have to have sold a novel, or two short stories, to an approved, paying market, which back then, meant on of the big publishing houses in NYC, or one of the three or four American SF magazines still alive.
Later, the organization tried to expand its reach to include the rest of the world and add in "fantasy," and the acronym changed, but it didn't really stick. SFWA, pronounced "siff-wah," and there we were.
This joining marked me as a professional writer in my chosen field, and I remember getting the letter from Mildred Downey "Bubbles" Broxon, one of the SFWA officers, telling me I had been accepted as a member, and being absolutely thrilled.
Over the years, there was a lot of wrangling in the organization, this issue or that, and the house magazines, one public, one for members only, carried a lot of back and forth which at times got heated and nasty.
Being a member didn't really get you anything at the street level. The officers worked to improve contracts, they put out how-to stuff, listed markets (which were usually closed by the time the Bulletin or the Forum arrived) and did this and that. Not really a toothless tiger when it came to dealing with publishers for member grievances, but not much past a house cat tom.
Mostly, it was a boys club, and there were a thousand or fewer members who, at various conventions, would go the sponsored hotel suite to drink beer and grouse about the biz.
Now, the numbers are up and somewhat diversified, though it's still mostly boys who read the stuff ...
Back when there was a perceived problem with George Lucas and Star Wars novelizations and royalties, SFWA, via one of its overzealous officers, actually cost me work. To make a long story short, they included me in the list of people who wanted to face off with Lucasfilm after I had expressly told them not to do so because I absolutely did not want to do that.
(A faction of SFWA was unhappy about the lack of royalties being offered for novelizations, even though the flat-fee being paid was the highest in the field at the time.)
Suffice it to say, they didn't exactly bring George Lucas to his knees, and there was some fallout when it was done.
One doesn't bandy the term "blacklist" about carelessly, but a bunch of us SFWA members who had been writing for Star Wars doing novelizations and comics and games and such quite successfully all of a sudden weren't getting our calls or emails returned, and that seemed awfully coincidental. My first effort there was way up the NY Times Bestseller list, and I was, I thought, one of their fair-haired writers, but several years elapsed before I was allowed back into the fold. Some of the SFWA'n's never made it back at all.
Well, the responsible party for that is no longer with us, and I won't speak ill of the dead, at least not by name ...
Um. Anyway, each year, I got a guide, a list of the other members, addresses, email, agents active in the field, and that was pretty much what my dues bought me. I never volunteered for office, didn't go to the meetings, and the house organ 'zines were pretty much my only contact with the organization.
Still, I ponied up the dues each summer and stuck around. Some writers I know quit in high dudgeon, rejoined later, then quit again. Lot of 'em in the field have left, or never been members in the first place, and it didn't seem to hurt their sales.
All of which is to say, when the bill arrived this time, I looked at it, and decided that paying ninety bucks a year to be able to say I am a member of SFWA? Not worth it. Outside of that initial rush of being on the list of working pro writers, I'm not sure it was ever really worth it, but I hung in there. Until now.
Adíos, SFWA. Mystery Writers of America? You might be next ...