What is Association Management Software?
Association Software: What is it?
AMS is an acronym for association management software or association management system. An AMS is a computer system that provides professional and trade associations with the necessary features to run their organization.
Association Software: What does it come with?
Most AMS systems are coupled to the association’s website to facilitate interactions and transactions with constituents 24/7. Interactions include the ability for a constituent to update their record, access member only information, view member directories or social interactions (private social network, message boards, etc.). Transactions include membership sign-up, membership renewals, event and conference registrations, product ordering and donations.
Professional and trade associations deal with people and organizations. The ability to manage information on individuals and organizations is the core of all AMS systems. These features allows the association’s staff (and even the constituents themselves through a web based self service portal) manage constituent records including contact information, demographics, CEU’s, certifications, and transaction history. It should be noted that the records managed can be members, non-members, past members or prospective members.
Dues and Subscription Management
Dues are the lifeblood of association and association management systems take care of the critical task of dues billing and collection. Most systems accommodate a variety of types of billing including annual, anniversary, sliding scale, and custom. AMS systems also have the ability to pro-rate dues depending on when the member joins. AMS systems also are instrumental in the management and billing of subscriptions for things like newsletters, journals, insurance and other similar products.
Conference and Event Management
This feature enables the association to plan simple (one-day, webinars, etc) and complex events (i.e. multi-day conferences), process registrations and payments and send confirmations. Most AMS systems also help the event planner with resource planning for the event as well (i.e. room assignments, food, A/V, etc).
Association committees are key to proper governance. AMS systems enable staff to track committee and sub-committee members and organize by position. AMS systems also provide facilities for committee interaction and communication as well as the ability to record minutes and notes on the committees. Many systems also enable the organization to publish committee rosters to the association’s website.
Continuing Education / Certification Management
Many associations provide educational opportunities and continuing education credits (CEUs) and many provide certifications. AMS systems provide the means to track CEUs, certifications, progress towards certifications and and designations to be awarded upon certification.
Association management software operates as a sub ledger and handles the billing, invoicing, receipting for all transactions involving members / constituents. The AMS usually has an export (often automated) to pass transaction summaries to the association’s accounting package.
Web Based Self Service Portal
Association’s need to be able to service their membership 24/7 and this is done thru an AMS’s self service portal. This portal is blended into the association’s web site and typically a single sign-on is built so that the member has only one login to manage. The portal allows the the member to interact with the association in a variety of ways including:
- Profile update – member can update demographic information on his/her self and/or organization, change password and sign up for various communications (newsletter, etc).
- Become a member functionality whereby a member can sign-up and pay dues to immediately become a member of the organization
- eCommerce – renew membership, register for conferences and purchase products online in an amazon-like storefront
- View order history – member can view history of all transactions with the association and have the software send copies of invoices and confirmations.
- The AMS also controls what areas of the Association’s website can be accessed; for example only members can access the members only content.
Mobile apps for phones and tablets have moved from rare to an expectation. Attendees at conference use the association’s event app to see sessions, speakers and other event information. Member’s can use the app to see upcoming events, related social media and even do light profile editing.
Business Intelligence, analytics and reporting are major keys to understanding membership and mining this critical data to make sound business decisions.
Trends in Association Management Software
The following trends are being seen in the association software industry.
Just like their for-profit counterparts, associations are looking to have their software be cloud based. Being in the cloud means that the association management system and its data are hosted on the internet (versus a local / on-premise server). The users access the system via a standard browser.
This trend is happening for a variety of reasons including:
- Functionality – cloud based software manufacturers are able to release software quicker and easier than on-premise. Most association’s that use cloud based solutions are all on the latest version and are able to take advantage of all of the latest features.
- Lower Total Cost of Ownership – with Cloud computing there is no software or hardware to buy. The association management software manufacturer is responsible for upgrades, security, performance monitoring and maintenance which amounts to a huge labor savings over the old-school legacy systems.
- Security – Good Cloud Based Software is typically much more secure than on-premise / locally hosted solutions as the scale of of the software enables the manufacturer to to hire the best security experts and employ the latest technology. For example, Nimble AMS is built on on the Salesforce.com platform and they have security at a scale that most associations could never afford (details on Salesforce security).
- Ability to be used from anywhere and on any device. This is incredibly important when staff is working from home, on the road or at conferences.
CRM Based AMS Systems
Every association needs the ability process association specific transactions; dues, event registrations, committees, etc. and it is critical that an AMS has the ability to process them.
But associations also need Customer Relationship Management (CRM) features. CRM systems allows associations to manage business relationships and the data and information associated with them. In addition, CRM systems typically provide workflow, reporting, analytics and business intelligence. These items are just as critical to an association as the transactions.
Most AMS packages are strong on the transactional side but weak on the CRM side. The reason for this is that CRM features are extremely complex and costly to develop. For example, Salesforce spent $425M on Research and Development in 2012.
As a result a few AMS manufacturers have developed their AMS systems on top of leading CRM systems like Salesforce.com. This gives the association the best of both worlds – strong transaction processing and world-class CRM.
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