Association organization leadership already has plenty on their plates—and often, one of those activities is growing their membership. But growth is a difficult, ongoing challenge. According to a recent report, 46% of organizations had trouble reaching new members, whereas 43% simply don’t have enough time to focus on growth. While these are significant figures, there is a solution that can both help with outreach, free up time, and more: an AMS.
Association management software (AMS) can assist organizations with a variety of tasks to simplify the jobs of your staff while also creating a cohesive experience for members. Think maintaining a member database, running new member onboarding, registering attendees for chapter meetings, and beyond.
To get a firm grasp on AMS systems and their wealth of functionality, we’ll use this guide to examine the ins and outs of this type of valuable platform. After reading, you’ll have an understanding of these topics:
- What is an AMS?
- Association Management Software vs. Membership Management Software
- Top AMS Features
- Benefits of Using Association Management Software
- How to Choose the Right AMS
- Our Top Association Management Software Recommendation
From there, you can weigh the pros and cons of any AMS system and make an informed choice on the right software for your organization.
What is an AMS?
When it comes to answering the question: “What is an AMS?”, the answer goes beyond simply spelling out this initialism. AMS stands for “association management software,” and is also often referred to as “association management software.” But what does this actually mean?
An AMS is an all-in-one platform that helps association staff members manage the entire member pipeline—from recruitment to retention to referrals and beyond. This kind of system makes it simple for an organization to execute on every part of your membership program—all from one place.
That includes activities on the back-end, like maintaining an up-to-date member database, automating tasks like member fee renewal reminders, and making it simple for members to securely pay their dues online. But an AMS also makes it easier to serve members on the frontend, like building an online community for members to network with one another, and hosting learning and development opportunities for members (think webinars, online courses, seminars, and more).
Association Management Software vs. Membership Management Software
The terms “association management software” and “member management software” are sometimes used interchangeably. While the two concepts are practically the same, they aren’t technically interchangeable.
Here’s how: Membership management software is a broad, umbrella term. This kind of software caters to a wide swath of organization types that have members, including chambers of commerce, non-profits, a variety of clubs, as well as associations. For example: MemberClicks provides membership management software that this variety of organizations can use to maintain their member database, perform outreach, and market their many benefits to prospective members.
On the other hand, association management software is a narrower concept that falls under the umbrella of membership management software. An AMS is specifically tailored for the needs of associations.
The Top Features You’ll Need For Your AMS
Because there are a variety of AMS systems, you’ll notice that each offers different functionality. While some features are just bells and whistles, others are must-haves you should actively seek out in your software.
To ensure you get the most return on your software investment, look for an AMS that includes the following key functionality:
- A membership database. There’s a reason this feature is at the top of the list: It’s the crucial building block for truly useful AMS systems. You’ll need a robust database that allows you to collect member details, easily segment your members for targeted campaigns, and keep all your prospect data in one place.
- An integrated content management system (CMS). Whether you need to build a member website from scratch or regularly update an existing one, it’s helpful to have an AMS that integrates with your site. With an integrated CMS, you can make updates right from your management software so you don’t need to switch over to a separate tool.
- Email marketing features. With a membership database built into your AMS, the software should make it simple to create slick emails for your members. Email marketing is a powerful tool to promote your membership benefits, events, and more—all with customized targeting and messaging for specific members (or soon-to-be members).
- A member community. To engage your members, choose an AMS that makes it easy to set up an online member community. A dedicated community allows members to connect with one another, network, and socialize with other people in their industry.
- Automated fee reminders. While it’s crucial for the success of your association that you collect membership dues and remind members to renew, these are often tedious tasks that suck up far too much of your staff’s time. An AMS should automate these activities—so you and your staff can retain members while focusing on more high-impact tasks.
- Event registration. Events, whether they’re online webinars or in-person networking mixers, can be great drivers for revenue as well as recruiting new members. Choose an AMS that includes event features to make it simple to register attendees.
- Reporting and analytics. Go beyond basic dashboards. Associations need deeper insights to make data-driven decisions, so make sure you can create customized reports and view key analytics.
- Accounting features. Bookkeeping and accounting your organization’s finances is often another responsibility that falls into association staff. An AMS that integrates with your bookkeeping tool (like QuickBooks) makes this tedious task a little less cumbersome.
The Benefits of Using Association Management Software
Technology is meant to help us streamline daily tasks and make our to-do lists just a bit shorter—and that’s exactly what management software can do.
And while association management software provides organizations with a variety of benefits, the most common include:
- Freeing up your staff’s time. According to WildApricot’s recent report, 43% of organizations had trouble with growth because they simply don’t have enough time. And that’s where an AMS can help. Toggling back and forth between different tools for member database, email marketing, and event registration costs your staff valuable time (especially with all that context switching). But an all-in-one AMS platform (or one with an array of integrations) centralizes all these functions in one place—so no switching back and forth. That means your staff can focus on better serving your members.
- Boosting data security. Because management software is created specifically for associations, you can trust that an AMS will keep your organization and member information safe. Comprehensive AMS systems include payment card industry (PCI) compliance, firewall protection, data encryption, password protection, and data privacy features.
- Creating a seamless member experience. While an AMS can make things easier for your staff, it can also help you create a more cohesive experience for your valued members. For example: A member gets an email prompting them to renew their membership. Rather than having to wait for regular business hours to call your office and pay for dues over the phone, they can click a prompt in the email, and go right to a secure payment processor via your AMS. From there, they can pay their dues easily online.
- Getting a 10,000-foot view of your membership. A solid AMS system will provide you with reporting and analytics features that allow you to see how your membership base is growing, what growth tactics are working, and compare data month-over-month and year-over-year. With this kind of crucial information easily available, you can make more data-driven decisions.
How to Choose the Right AMS
Now that you understand the bevvy of benefits an AMS can offer, you’ll likely want to start your search. However, before you pull the trigger on any software purchase, you’ll need a basic understanding of what to look for when vetting an AMS.
Not all management software is created equal—every AMS has different offerings when it comes to functionality and pricing options. While some software offers lower pricing that is budget-friendly for startups, you may have to sacrifice some features as a tradeoff for the lower cost. Whereas, other feature-rich software may have a higher price tag, but
That’s why it’s crucial to understand your organization’s unique needs when it comes to an AMS and what functionality is a must-have to get the right return on your investment.
To assess what AMS would work best for your organization, follow a few steps:
- Document what you want to achieve and your needs. Before starting your search, sit down with your team to define your goals. What do you need an AMS for most—are there any gaps that an AMS could help fill? How can an AMS best serve your organization and your members? For example: If you need help connecting your members to one another, finding software that helps you set up an online member community for networking might be a good fit.
- Do your homework. Now it’s time to shop around to see what’s out there. While a quick Google search will unearth a few AMS options, don’t forget to also read reviews and ask other organizations about their experiences.
- Ask software providers tough questions. While many management software creators have websites with robust FAQ sections and details on functionality, don’t be shy about reaching out to providers directly. Ask for a demo—is the software user-friendly enough for you and your staff to use daily? Does the software centralize multiple features in one platform (i.e., a content management system, a member database, and marketing functions)? Do they have customer testimonials you can review to help with your decision?
- Select your top picks. Based on your research, it’s time to make your shortlist. Try to narrow it down to your top two or three options based on the goals you outlined and the functionality you need to make the investment worth it. Do a side-by-side comparison. Which option includes most (or all) of the features you want, was easy to navigate, and is within your organization's budget?
Our Top Association Software Recommendation
When it comes to choosing the right association management software, there’s one alternative that includes a multitude of features that can make managing your member database easier and streamline many of your outreach tasks: MemberClicks.
MemberClicks is an all-in-one platform that centralizes all your association management activities in one place. It’s simple to automate tedious tasks like manually renewing memberships or processing dues payments. You can also used MemberClick to make marketing easier—it’s easy to design and deploy email campaigns to targeted association members.
And these are just a few of the features that make MemberClicks the top option for organizations in need of association management software. Some of the other noteworthy offerings include:
- A robust membership database to house all your association members and their contact details.
- Online payment processing to make it easy for members to pay applicable fees and membership dues
- Event management tools to register attendees and promote conferences, networking events, and more
- Simply communication management like email marketing tools and an online community just for your members
- Website management features simplify the process of building and maintaining an association website
- Reporting and analytics tools help you dive deep into your member data to glean important insights to drive better decision-making
What is an AMS? Moving Forward With Association Management Software
While MemberClicks is a top-notch choice for association management software, it’s far from the only option available. Depending on your organization's unique needs and budget, there are a bevvy of software alternatives for you to explore.
To start your search for the best association management software for your organization, follow the advice outlined in this step-by-step guide to choosing the right database. And prior to compiling your software short-list, check out our buyer’s guide for association management software to ensure you’ve considered all the important factors that should inform your final decision.