What is an association management system (AMS)?

You may have heard the term AMS before, but what does that really mean? What is an association management system?

Put simply, an association management system is a technology solution that allows you to manage your organization’s membership using one integrated system (which includes your website and database). Dues renewals, email marketing, event registration, and more - you name it, an AMS does it.

That means no more jumping back and forth between disparate systems or trying to complete EVERYTHING (like those invoices and dues renewals) manually. (Was that a sigh of relief we heard?)

Below are just a few of the many powerful features commonly included in association management systems:

  • Membership database

  • Integrated website and CMS

  • Dues renewals and member applications

  • Individual and organizational memberships

  • Directories

  • Email marketing

  • Event registration

  • Member engagement community

  • Reporting

  • Online transaction processing

  • Payment processing

  • Accounting import

What Is an AMS? Get the Guide!

Why do you need an association management system?

There are many reasons to explore purchasing an association management system, but a few of the most compelling are as follows…

  • It saves you time. Like we mentioned, an AMS allows you to manage your organization’s membership using one integrated system. So no longer would you have to jump from system to system to get things done - to update your website, to send out an email notification, to view your list of event registrants, etc. Rather, with an AMS, you can do all of that under the same roof.

  • It adds value to your members. When you’re doing everything manually, you can only do so much. But an AMS takes it up a notch, adding features and capabilities you wouldn’t otherwise have. For example, with an AMS, you can provide your members with personalized content - in emails and on the member landing page (the first page your members see upon logging into your site). Remember, an AMS is tied to your organization’s database, so it can pull personalized information (member name, expiration date, member type, etc.) into your emails, making those messages 10x more relevant. Same thing goes for online forms. When a member goes online to renew their membership or register for an upcoming event, the AMS will pre-populate many of those form fields, making the process infinitely simpler. (And the easier it is for your members to do something, the more likely they are to actually do it.)

  • It provides you with a helping hand. If you choose the right technology provider, they can actually be a partner in association management. They can help with tech-related issues and provide ongoing training and best practices. Put simply, they can be an extension of your staff - to help your organization thrive.

Why Do You Need an AMS? Download Now!

Shopping for an association management system

Thinking an AMS might be the next best move for your association? Where do you even begin when it comes to the shopping process? Allow us to help…

  • Step 1: Create a team - In order to land on the right AMS for your association, you need a well-rounded team of staff members and/ or volunteers to manage the search internally. Your team should consist of people who will be using the software regularly and for a variety of purposes, at that. Remember, your new system should ultimately help the people running your association, so it’s important to get their input from the start.

  • Step 2: Identify key requirements - Use your existing system as a starting place. What processes are you using now that need to be replicated? What features need to be improved upon or added altogether? Consider dues renewals, event management and registration, membership management and reporting, internal communications, your website, and payment processing. Make a list of the features that are essential, as well as the items that would be nice, but that you could live without.

  • Step 3: Research options - You may already have a few AMS providers in mind, but even so, ask around, run a Google search, and check out a few software directories, such as capterra.com. There could be something good out there you’ve never even heard of!

  • Step 4: Contact vendors - Once you’ve identified a list of possible candidates, it’s time to reach out to them and request a demo. This will give you a better idea of how the software will work with your association and, better yet, how some of your current issues can be resolved. In order to make the most out of your demo, make sure to have the right people involved upfront. This will prevent your team (and the software provider) from having to go through multiple rounds of the same demo. Additionally, make sure to come to the demo prepared. Have a list of questions and must-sees ready in case you run low on time.

  • Step 5: Make a selection - Hopefully by now you’ve landed on an AMS provider you like. If so, give them a call and get started on your path to improved membership management. If you’re still not sure which direction to take, check out some online discussion forums and customer testimonials. No need to rush this process if it means winding up with the wrong provider.

Buyer’s Guide: Selecting the Right Association Management System. Download Now!

Questions to ask your potential AMS provider

Too often, association professionals get caught up in features only when shopping for an AMS. But while features are important, there’s more to it than that. You want to make sure you land on not only the right software, but the right provider for your association - one that’s willing to answer questions and provide ongoing updates and support.

To ensure you do land on the right software and provider, here’s a list of questions you NEED to ask during the shopping process:

Features:

  • Does the software offer all of the primary features your organization needs to be successful? Think about your must-haves. Does the system offer the capabilities that matter to you most?

  • Is the software a good fit for your business model? Organizations have unique needs. What works great for one doesn’t always work for another. Be sure the software solution meets the needs of your organization based on your business model.

  • Does the software pay for itself? The system should ultimately add to your bottom line. How does the vendor help you get a return on your investment?

  • Is the system flexible and configurable? Invest in a system that’s flexible and that can grow as your organization grows.

Efficiencies:

  • Is the software “all-in-one?” Are additional systems still required? Will you be able to get away from keeping data in multiple places?

  • If the software is all-in-one, how well do the components work together? Automation is key! Components should talk to each other and update automatically so you don’t have to constantly import and export data. This will save time and ensure your data is accurate.

  • Will you be able to save time with the new system? Your software should help you reduce the time it takes to complete your regular tasks.

  • Can the software be used outside the office? It’s critical to have the flexibility to work with data anywhere in today’s mobile-centric world.

 Company experience and reliability:

  • Does the software provider work with other organizations in your industry? Make sure the company understands your business and unique needs.

  • Has the company been in business for more than 5 years? Being around for a few years is a good indication that they are healthy, stable, and satisfying the needs of their clients. Recently formed companies may lack the experience, standard operating procedures, or staff to provide the level of service your company requires.

  • Does the company have a high customer retention rate? Find out if the company is keeping their clients satisfied. Start by searching online reviews to see the kind of service levels they provide.

  • Will you continue to own all of your own data? Ensure that you have complete control over and access to your data.

 Future developments:

  • Does the vendor offer partnerships or integrations with other companies? Integrations offer more possibilities to expand efficiencies and member benefits. Even if you don’t need them today, you may want to utilize them in the future.

  • Does the vendor offer additional product packages with more advanced features? It’s important to consider if you might quickly outgrow the system, or if the solution has additional offerings designed to grow with you.

  • Does the software offer frequent updates at no additional cost to you? In a world that’s always evolving, picking a provider that is forward-thinking and evolving themselves is important.

  • Does the company regularly update the product program in response to customer feedback? Without constant feedback and upgrades, even the best software can become stagnant. Make sure your software provider has a clear process for customer feedback and regularly acts on that feedback with frequent software updates.

Selecting an AMS Checklist. Download Now!

How to get your board on board with an association management system

Let’s say you’ve found an association management system you like, but now the hurdle is getting your board on board with that purchase. They’re not yet convinced you need an AMS, and even if you do (and they understand that), they’re weary of the providers (and prices) you’re bringing to the table.

How can you convince them otherwise and get them genuinely excited about this upgrade for your association? Here are a few tips:

  • Step 1: Highlight the flaws in your current system - When approaching your board about an AMS solution, you’ll want to start off by highlighting the pain points you feel with your current membership management system. Whether you’re utilizing a file cabinet, an Excel spreadsheet, or even an AMS that doesn’t quite cut it anymore, take some time to talk about the various hang-ups that your staff members deal with on a regular basis. More importantly, talk about what you could be doing if you weren’t having to deal with those hangups. For example, if you weren’t having to spend so much time manually sending out dues renewal reminder emails, you could be spending more time on membership recruitment strategies.

  • Step 2: Explain what an AMS actually is (in simple terms) - Your board may or may not know what an AMS actually is. Or if they do, they may not be aware of all the features commonly included. Without going into too much detail (at least initially), explain some of the primary functions of an AMS, honing in on some of those key features. (You can refer back to the first section on this page, if that will help.)

  • Step 3: Explain how an AMS can solve your current problems - Now time to connect the dots. Bring up the pain points you mentioned in Step #1 and the features you highlighted in Step #2 and tie them all together. More importantly, talk about how an AMS can free up a lot of your time, giving you extra hours in the day to focus on more important matters, such as recruiting new members and increasing membership retention rates. To really drive your point home, mention other associations that are successfully using AMS solutions. After all, that could be you.

  • Step 4: Talk numbers - This is where your board members’ ears will really perk up. Prior to approaching them, you’ll want to do a little research so you know what price ranges are even out there and realistic. The point here is to nail down a price range so you know exactly how to proceed with the shopping process. (The last thing you want to do is waste your time - or theirs - demoing systems that simply aren’t in your budget.)

  • Step 5: Get approval on the shopping process - Fingers crossed! Now you just need board approval. Based on the numbers you just talked about, see if it’s ok to move forward with the AMS shopping process. If so, refer to the sections above to ensure you land on the right system and provider for your association.

How to Get Your Board on Board When Shopping for an AMS. Get the Guide!

Conclusion

There’s a lot that goes into shopping for an association management system, but trust us, the payoff can be tremendous. And not just for you (saving you time and stress), but for your members as well, by improving the overall member experience.

If you’re even thinking about pursuing an association management system, at the very least, commit to a couple hours of research. You might be surprised by what you learn and what’s actually out there. (Technology is cool!) And don’t forget to take a look at MemberClicks. We provide membership management software to professional associations, trade associations, and chambers of all sizes - and we’d love to talk to you! Give us a call at 1-800-914-2441.

Read more about association management systems on MemberClicks’ blog: