Last year, Gittel Gordon had her roof repaired, her disposal fixed, her jewelry appraised and her plants taken care of while she was away on vacation. Free.
Steve and Susan Hook had a gourmet Chinese dinner catered to their home and a family portrait taken. They also received some legal advice on estate planning and had a second trust deed notarized.
These people belong to Free For All, a Los Angeles-grown nonprofit organization of about 300 people who have been sharing their talents and professional expertise for the last six years.
Free For All is an alternative to the marketplace. For a $60 registration fee and $25 annual dues, members of this organization have access to a pool of services offered by other members, free of charge.
Each member decides what he wants to contribute. It could be a hobby: folk dancing, dinner companionship, or karate. It could be professional services: doctors, lawyers, plumbers, and barbers offer theirs. Or it could just be time-saving tasks: ironing, mending, and plant-sitting.
Members set the limits of their own services. When they join, they agree to render their services to anyone who calls, up to a maximum number of hours per week. The number of hours varies according to the type of service and its potential demand.
Each member receives a list of services offered and can call fellow members for any of them. Members are obligated to answer all requests within a week, unless they have already given their weekly maximum of service. In that case, the request is carried over to the next week.
Unlike barter groups, Free for All members do not swap or exchange anything. No scorecard is kept on how much Jane has done for Joe.
This provides a nice tax advantage -- a free bonus that even the organization's founder, Richard Johnson, didn't realize until one of his Free For All member lawyers pointed it out. with no exchange of goods and services and no buying and selling, there is no taxable transaction. Just sharing.
And the advantages fo sharing, Mr. Johnson said, go far beyond the bottom line.
"It's much more friendly -- like a family," he said. "It gives people the opportunity to share services without having to buy them. And it raises their standard of living, since they're getting some things they wouldn't normally pay for."
Free For All began in u975 as a special-interest section of the Menza Society , an organization that requires a high IQ for membership. In 1977 Mr. Johnson split the group off and formed an independent organization, open to all, which he administers full time. Johnson offers his professional services as a parliamentarian.
The organization isn't supposed to supply all a person's needs. Its effectiveness depends entirely on the number of members, the types of services they offer, and how often they use them.
with 300 members, Free For All offers a diverse set of services. There's shopping, shirtmaking, and shorthand; closet organizing, concert companionship, and cooking; bridge playing, baseball coaching, bookkeeping; editing, engineering; filing, financial counseling, physical fitness; picture framing, piano playing, programming; picture framing, piano playing, programming; telephoning, tennis, trumpet lessons.
The biggest problem with Free For All, according to Mr. Johnson, is getting member to use it.
Take Mr. Hook. He has given about 100 hours of his dental service in the last year and has received only about 30 hours of service himself.