Shopping for Association Management Software is like buying a car. There are way too many choices, the options are staggering, pricing is all over the map, and the sales people are unrelenting. If you decide to use the internet to help make a decision you may find that you still have the same issues, too many choices and not enough information.
In order to make the right purchase decision you need to have a plan. Before you even begin your search for a new association management system, consider the following three questions. From this starting point you can begin to sift through your options.
What Type of Membership Does Your Organization Have?
Is your membership comprised of organizations or people? Who pays the membership dues, the company or an individual? This question can help you understand what type of data you will need to manage. For example, a physician’s association may mostly deal with individuals and are not really concerned with the company the individual works for. On the other hand, a transportation association or wine and beer association may have companies as association members and need to know the people that work for the companies. The answer will tell you how your membership database needs to be structured. Will you need to invoice to a company or to a person? If you need to invoice a company, you will need to set up invoice contacts. How will you want to present information to the board? Are membership renewals by company or by person? Knowing the answer here will help find out from the AMS companies how they handle organization data and people data and if they can interconnect the two easily.
What Services Do You Need to Utilize?
When deciding on a new Association Management System you need to understand what tools your association needs and compare them to what the management system has to offer. You may end up not using some services that are available, or needing things that are not available. With your membership list do you want to be able to filter the lists by some criteria, make new lists, export fields of data to excel? Do you need tools to register members and non members for events? Do you want to allow members to pay for membership or events online? Is your organization politically involved so that you want to offer the ability to track legislation and perform grassroots activities? Some of these services are fairly commonplace such as list management, or blast emailing to members from the system, but if you are politically motivated, not many AMS companies offer integrated grassroots tools that key off of your membership database. Even Event Registration tools are pretty commonplace, but be sure to look at questions like how to register multiple people from one organization as some tools do not offer that option. Understanding your needs is key to making sure that your new Association Management System is up to the task.
How Does the Business Relationship Work with Each AMS?
This third question is really trying to get you to decide what is more important, price or service. The range of pricing on AMS software is really an eye opener, but the same thing is true for service. If you believe that your organization has a unique way of doing things, then you may want to value service higher and have an AMS that will make changes for you as part of the contract. Or if you have a number of people who need administrative rights to the software to perform their jobs, you may need an environment that offers a flat fee for many users rather than a per user license fee. If your organization is one that needs to manage lists and do events, and there is only one person who needs access to the system because you are a small shop, then you can lean toward the most basic of systems. And if you want to have an environment that lets your members sign up for an event and send messages to their legislators that they expect to see them at the event, then you need a more sophisticated set of tools that blend services better and may need to be more flexible in making changes.
When shopping for AMS software, it is better to step back and look at how your organization currently runs and how want it to run, where service fits into your plans and then try to find the software environment that will best support those needs.