As an association leader at a small-staff organization, perhaps you’ve been managing your professional association, trade association, or chamber of commerce with a series of spreadsheets or disconnected systems.
However, like many other association leaders before you, as your organization grows, you may start to notice that these disparate platforms just aren’t working anymore.
In your role, you’re intimately familiar with the daily tasks and necessary responsibilities that keep your organization running smoothly.
From managing your members to creating valuable events and educational experiences for them, your organization has grown with the help of your small staff. An AMS, or association management system, might just be the tool you need to maximize your use of technology to save your staff members time and provide more value for your members.
In this guide, we’ll review everything you need to know about association management systems, from top benefits to the best solution on the market. We’ll cover the following questions:
- What is an AMS system?
- How does an AMS system benefit your association?
- What features should you seek in an AMS system?
- What is the best AMS system?
Here at MemberClicks, we understand the importance of having access to an all-in-one software solution tailored to your organization’s needs. We equip associations and chambers of commerce with the membership management solutions they need to run their organizations more efficiently. Through this work, we’ve seen firsthand the benefits that a dedicated AMS system can provide for your organization. Let’s get started!
What is an AMS system?
While both the AMS itself and the overarching AMS system provide benefits to your association, there are a few differences between them.
What is association management software?
Association management software is any technology solution used to manage an association, whether it's a membership database, an online member engagement community, event management software, eCommerce software, marketing software, and more. These tools allow association professionals to streamline management processes.
As organizational leaders, you have responsibilities to both your staff members, who keep the organization running, and your members, who pay dues to be a part of the association. You must empower your staff members with the necessary resources to manage your organization effectively, and you must provide members with valuable experiences that are worth the fees.
This is where association management software comes into play. This powerful system simplifies the experience of both staff members and association members to create a more effective organization.
How does an AMS system differ from AMS software?
An AMS system is an all-in-one technology solution that combines multiple AMS tools into one comprehensive system. This means your membership platform combines with your integrated website and content management system (CMS), online member engagement community, online transaction management, and other necessary platforms for an integrated system.
Combined solutions allow organizations to trade in their series of disconnected systems for one connected solution. This cohesive system benefits associations because it allows for seamless and swift data transfer between platforms. Using one dedicated system means that your team doesn't need to juggle multiple platforms and learn the ins and outs of each individual solution. Finally, instead of budgeting for multiple systems, you can simplify your outgoing payments into just one bill.
How does an AMS system benefit your association?
A dedicated system has the potential to make life easier for both your association staff and your members, leading to an overall better experience for everyone involved in your organization.
How does an AMS benefit your association staff?
Your staff members are critical contributors to your organization’s success, and they need to have access to the best tools available to help them complete their duties. As far as benefits for your staff, an AMS system:
- Saves time. Avoid having to jump back and forth between systems to complete tasks and instead complete everything under one roof. Plus, the interconnectedness of this system also means many functions overlap. For example, since your email marketing platform integrates with your membership database, you can automate email messages to the existing audiences in your database. Talk about a time-saver!
- Offers increased data security. AMS systems are tailored to fit the specific needs of membership organizations. This means these solutions offer the data safety measures that associations need to reassure their members that their information is completely secure. These measures include payment card industry (PCI) compliance, firewall protection, data encryption, password protection, and data privacy.
- Provides a full view of member engagement efforts. Your software system can provide you with a bird’s eye view of your entire membership base. You can maintain data regarding member engagement, such as event signups or continuing education credits, to assess how members are interacting with what you have to offer. This allows you to adjust your strategies moving forward for even greater success.
- Gives your association a helping hand. Your tech provider can offer ongoing support and training on industry best practices to help your team make the most of your software solution. This is especially helpful for small-staff organizations with limited resources. Once staff members are completely familiar with the software system, they can be more effective and efficient in their daily work.
These advantages can help your organization start operating on a higher level, which ultimately allows you to provide greater benefits to your members as well.
How does an AMS benefit your members?
An AMS can provide your members with a better experience and allow them to extract more value from their membership. A comprehensive solution offers these member benefits:
- Provides members a personalized experience. Since an AMS offers features and capabilities, you can offer your members a more personalized experience that wouldn’t be possible with a manual system. For example, you can pull specific data from your AMS such as their preferred names or membership type. By including this information in your email communications, you can make the messages much more relevant. Plus, your AMS can pre-populate form fields with member’s information, simplifying the process and making it more likely that they’ll complete the form.
- Gives members a place to connect. Social communication features like messaging capabilities, online forums, and a member directory allow members to interact and network to develop personal and professional relationships. This allows members to get more from their membership, and may even lead to new career opportunities for them.
- Adds convenience to membership. Members receive all the information and materials provided by your organization in just one online location rather than having to log into multiple systems. Plus, with features like automated dues renewal reminder emails, member profiles, and pre-populated form fields, members can update their membership status and profile information much more easily.
Your members make up the heart and soul of your organization, so it’s important to offer them valuable experiences that help develop their careers and encourage them to maintain their membership. An AMS can bring all member engagement efforts under one umbrella to give members exactly what they need to thrive.
What features should you seek in association management software?
While each AMS system will look different, you should ensure the solution you choose contains these necessary elements:
Your membership database is the center of your AMS system. This allows you to store and track all member and prospect information to build meaningful relationships with your community. These features also allow you to:
- Access and manage member profiles to streamline administrative processes.
- Track member engagement to determine trends and analyze association strategic successes or opportunities.
- Create workflows for your team to follow to standardize member management procedures.
With an integrated system rather than a series of unrelated software solutions, you can collect and store all this data under one roof for convenient access. Plus, by getting to know your members better through tracking their personal information, you can improve your member retention rates. When you take the time to address members by name and reference their history with the association, you can show them that they’re valued as individuals within your organization and that you care about their growth and development.
Integrated Website and CMS
Many AMS systems will host your organization’s website, but some also act as a CMS. This means you can manage all aspects of your organization’s website on the backend without needing extensive technical expertise or the help of a third-party web developer.
Plus, with a comprehensive AMS system, your website integrates with your database. This means you can show members personalized information when they log in. For example, you can show student members information about upcoming job fairs or internship applications, or inform adult learners about webinars or training courses to look forward to.
In-house membership website management allows you to:
- Boost your organization’s brand recognition and reinforce your credibility.
- Save time by creating efficient processes and strategies for staff.
- Grow your membership by empowering members to create and update their own profiles.
These features give you complete control over website management, allowing you to market your organization strategically and customize your site to match your specific needs.
Dues Renewals and Membership Applications
Your AMS system facilitates the process of collecting member applications through your website and can actually automate the entire dues-renewal process. This means the system detects when members are close to the renewal deadline and automatically sends email reminders, without forcing your team to do any extra work. And, as noted, these emails are personalized to each member, boosting both retention and engagement.
If members don’t renew on time, you can configure a grace period and send out periodic reminders to engage lapsed members. This gives members a little more leeway to make their decision and leads to better renewal rates. According to Marketing General Incorporated’s 2020 Membership Marketing Benchmark Report, associations with renewal rates of 80% or higher are significantly more likely to offer a grace period than organizations with lower renewal rates. The majority of surveyed organizations reported offering a grace period of 2-3 months.
These features help your staff members avoid the hassle of paper checks and invoices and also provide more convenience for members when their benefits aren’t interrupted.
Individual and Organizational Memberships
Some associations have a membership base of individuals and organizations as a whole. Your AMS can facilitate membership specifics for both of these parties. You can link individual profiles to organizations and even enable bulk membership registration.
For instance, you can enable one contact within a larger organization to renew memberships on behalf of other individuals or register them for events in one overarching action. This is highly convenient for members, giving them a simplified experience and boosting the likelihood that they’ll stay engaged. This also saves your team time and hassle associated with trying to conduct bulk renewals manually.
Remember how we mentioned that networking is one of the top benefits your AMS can give to your members? Directories are a major component of the networking process. With a comprehensive system, you can set your directory to public or private. Let’s explore each option and its advantages for associations:
A public directory functions as an index of professionals within your association’s industry. Individuals outside of your organization can use the directory to find skilled professionals to reach out to.
For instance, if your organization is a dental association, you can create a directory of your members. Then, individuals can search for dentists in their area using your database.
This is not only great exposure for your organization but also your members. They can brand themselves and take advantage of this exposure. Plus, you can investigate your options for Google Ads so that whenever a user searches keywords related to your industry, your member directory appears at the top of the results page.
This provides a powerful marketing opportunity for your members, allowing them to get their name and image out in the community. A public directory can boost membership value when members see that their involvement comes with an effective publicity boost.
On the other hand, some organizations choose to host a private directory, which offers its own unique benefits. A private directory is only open to your members, but it still includes a detailed index of everyone involved with your organization.
Members can use this tool to conduct searches and search by specific categories. For example, they can search for nearby professionals by zip code to identify local members to network with. They can also search by area of expertise to find others in their specialty field to share advice and knowledge.
This can help your members connect with one another and form professional relationships that can advance their careers.
A quality AMS system can simplify the creation of a member directory by giving members the ability to update their profiles and brand themselves to reach more potential clients. Plus, once prospective members see the value in your directory, you can boost your own membership numbers.
Marketing is a critical part of growing and retaining your membership base. You have to effectively get the word out about your association and its membership benefits to attract new members to join. Without frequent new member acquisition as well as membership renewals, your association could be at risk of losing revenue.
Many AMS systems come with a powerful marketing tool to help you do this — an email marketing platform. This tool comes with several features that can help you effectively reach your intended audience, including:
- Personalized and automated emails: As previously stated, personalized email communications go a long way toward engaging and retaining members. With an automated email process, you just have to decide when you want emails to go out, and your system handles the rest. For example, you can set membership renewal reminders three months in advance to get members thinking about renewal, then send these reminders with increasing frequency up until the deadline. Whenever members take action to renew, the emails are automatically halted, ensuring you don’t continue pestering your members.
- List segmentation: Your email marketing platform also allows you to segment members based on shared characteristics. If you want to send messages to just board members, or just newly-joined members, you can do so with a few simple clicks. This ensures you’re sending each member information that’s most relevant to them, increasing the likelihood that they’ll interact with the content
Having an email platform that integrates seamlessly with your other member management tools is a major benefit because you can refine your communication approach with a more targeted strategy. You can also use email analytics such as open rates and click-through rates to adjust your strategy.
Events are likely an important part of your association’s strategy because registrations make up a major component of non-dues revenue. They also provide valuable educational or networking experiences for your members. Whether you’re hosting in-person, virtual, or hybrid events, you want to give attendees a memorable, valuable experience so they’re more likely to remain engaged in your organization.
A comprehensive AMS that includes conference and event management software makes this process simple. With this tool, you can:
- Use your membership database to create pre-populated form fields for those who’ve historically interacted with your organization. This makes registration much more convenient for members when they aren’t forced to input the same information over and over again.
- Incorporate secure payment processing to streamline the process for attendees and your team (we’ll discuss this more in a later section).
- Send email reminders to event registrants to minimize no-shows and foster anticipation.
- Track attendance to assess the success of your event and the disparity between registrations and actual attendance numbers.
Your event platform allows you to segment communications to send out emails to specific audiences. For example, you can send a thank you email to those who attended a virtual event, then provide follow-up information such as the event recording link or educational resources. Afterward, you can send a message to those who signed up but didn’t attend the event. Let them know that you missed their presence, but that you have several other upcoming opportunities for them to get involved.
These strategies are much more effective for open rates and for influencing members to take the desired action.
Another element of fostering community among your members is providing opportunities for them to regularly connect and chat with one another. Providing a more relaxed forum for networking drives member loyalty and creates valuable members-only experiences.
Therefore, you’ll want to find an AMS system that offers an online community feature. This especially comes in handy when you have members tuning in from all over the country — they can always stay in touch online, no matter where they live. Your member community should include the following features:
- Discussion boards to share ideas, collaborate, and spark learning opportunities.
- Multimedia support for members to share images, videos, infographics, and other media to drive visual engagement.
- Special interest group collaboration to provide curated discussion spaces for those with similar interests.
- Search function for members to explore your directories and find similar individuals to reach out to individually.
- Member-to-member messaging to foster more networking opportunities.
- Gamification elements, including online badges, points-tracking, surveys, and leaderboards, to increase participation and reward engagement.
By providing a variety of resources and valuable networking opportunities, you can foster a rich and vibrant membership community that enhances your members’ experience. You use the power of FOMO (the fear of missing out) to entice new members to your association by showcasing the value of your online member community.
The reporting process gives your association leadership the opportunity to assess different elements of your organization such as membership growth, revenue trends, and more. If you’ve previously tried to tackle reporting using a variety of disparate systems, you know that it can quickly become cumbersome and confusing.
However, with an AMS, you can bring data from many different efforts all under one umbrella, streamlining the process and maybe even revealing new insights or trends you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise.
Ensure your AMS system can generate reports such as:
- Membership reports with information on membership changes over time and new lapses so that you can analyze membership and renewal trends.
- Event reports with information like registration data vs. actual attendance to gauge the success of each event.
- Form reports for forms such as surveys or elections to review supporter feedback or votes.
- Financial reports to analyze information like sales, payments, and refunds for an accurate picture of your organization’s fiscal situation.
Having immediate access to accurate reports can provide the insights necessary to adjust your organization’s strategy for future success. For example, if you notice that certain events or event segments are more popular than others, you can offer more of this type of content in the future.
Or, you might note changes in your association’s membership base over time, such as a skew toward younger members. This can help you change up your communications and outreach strategy to appeal to younger audiences.
Either way, reports can provide the direction you need to make accurate, data-driven decisions about your organization’s strategy and future activities.
Online Transaction Processing
A powerful AMS system simplifies the transaction process for your association staff and for your members. Staff members can send automated invoices to members and prospects, leaving the paper invoices in the past in favor of a fully digitized system.
Also, an AMS enables members to make purchases with just the click of a button. A simplified payment process vastly increases the chances of members and prospects actually going through with their intended transactions. We’ve seen organizations experience form drop-off because of complicated payment processes, but an AMS with built-in transaction processes can alleviate this problem.
Whenever your members submit payment information, they trust your organization to keep their data safe. The last thing you want to do is use a poor payment system that leaves your members’ information vulnerable to external threats. That’s why you must investigate your options for an AMS provider that features secure payment processing.
Find an AMS solution that offers payment card industry (PCI) compliance. This means it follows guidelines for the proper handling, dissemination, and storage of credit card information. This feature puts your members’ minds at ease while eliminating the stress of potential data breaches.
Accounting is a pain point for many associations, especially when using a variety of disconnected payment processing systems. However, an AMS handles all transactions in one system, leaving a full record of financial information.
You can also transfer this data to your accounting system for seamless processes to maintain financial records. But keep in mind that this feature varies depending on your AMS provider. Be sure to thoroughly review each AMS option to determine how it handles the accounting process.
What is the best AMS system?
A quick Google search reveals that there are a ton of AMS systems available, but one option tends to stand out above the rest. MemberClicks is a cloud-based association management software solution that helps boost member engagement and revenue with a streamlined, centralized system.
The MemberClicks toolkit is designed for small-staff professional and trade associations and chambers of commerce. Beyond just a membership management solution, we also offer:
- Learning management software to boost members’ continuing education and facilitate training courses.
- A job board to connect members with new career opportunities.
- Event management software to create seamless experiences for attendees.
- A content management system to develop your website, enhance your organization’s brand, and provide your members and prospects with the information they need to get involved.
MemberClicks offers two membership management solutions depending on your organization’s needs: Oasis and Atlas.
Oasis is geared toward mid-sized professional associations and chambers of commerce that are interested in a comprehensive technology platform to better engage their members and open new revenue streams. Features of this solution include:
- A membership database to conveniently store and track member and prospect information.
- An online payment system to automate dues renewals and membership applications and simplify accounting and payment processing.
- An event registration platform to provide a straightforward experience for attendees and track event data.
- Communication features to boost email marketing and automate messages.
- A website builder and management system that offers nine templates for customers to easily build a new site, or integrate their existing site with their member database and portal.
- Community building resources to increase member engagement through messaging, discussion forums, and blogs.
- Reporting and analytics features to quickly access data and discover new insights.
Organizations that use MemberClicks appreciate this system because of its capabilities such as:
- Automation, which saves small staff organizations time and allows them to focus more on member engagement strategies.
- Integration, because it provides an all-in-one platform for managing association-related activities.
- Cloud-based features, which means all of the interconnected solutions can be accessed via a web browser, allowing staff members to log in from anywhere.
If these features and benefits interest you, contact the MemberClicks team for a free demo.
The Atlas system is similar to the Oasis product, but it’s built specifically for trade associations. The features of this system include:
- Relationship management tools that enable you to conveniently store supporter data and build meaningful relationships based on accurate information.
- An event management platform for planning, promoting, and executing professional events and provide an easy registration process for guests.
- Financial management tools that integrate with your existing accounting system to manage your bookkeeping and accounting needs, increasing efficiency.
- Reporting features to create customized reports and make data-driven decisions.
- A communication platform to contact all members at once or design targeted messages for segmented audiences.
- A website manager to reinforce brand credibility and provide information for current and prospective members.
Clients value this system for its:
- Ability to foster meaningful relationships through thoughtful member cultivation and communication efforts.
- Highly configurable interface that provides powerful performance insight according to your organization’s goals and priorities.
- All-in-one platform to manage all aspects of your organization in one system.
Read more about Atlas and contact the team for a demo here.
An AMS system is one of the most effective investments you can make for your organization’s future. As you continue your research, you might decide it’s time for your association or chamber of commerce to invest in a new solution to streamline your organization’s management processes. Check out these additional resources to help you in this search:
- The Buyer’s Guide to Association Management Software. Use this free step-by-step guide to find the right membership management solution for your organization.
- 20+ Stand-Out Association Management Software Options. Check out this resource for a list of top association management software providers to see your top options.
- How to Get Your Board on Board When Shopping for an AMS. One of the greatest challenges associations face in the AMS shopping process is getting board members on board with the new investment. Discover top tips for securing their support with this free guide.