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What is an AMS? A Guide to Association Management Software

MemberClicks Avatar MemberClicks September 9, 2021
Table of Contents
8 min read

Associations and association employees have plenty on their plates. Growing membership numbers, earning non-dues revenue, planning events and engaging current members are just some of the many things associations do every day.

Association management software (AMS) can streamline tasks by giving associations a one-stop-shop for sending emails, reporting on membership numbers, tracking revenue, engaging members and so much more.

If association management software is new to you, you’re in the right place. In this guide, we’re covering:

From here, you can feel empowered to make a decision on what the right AMS system is for you. It’s time to get excited about how a membership management system will make your daily tasks easier than ever.

What is an AMS?

AMS stands for association management software, also often referred to as association management system. Whatever you call it, it is a type of technology – often cloud-based – used by associations and other membership companies.

AMS’ are an all-in-one platform that helps staff manage the entire member pipeline — from recruitment to retention to referrals and beyond all from one system.

And yes, we mean everything. That means:

  • maintaining an up-to-date member database
  • emailing and communicating with members
  • automating tasks like member fee renewal reminders
  • accepting member to securely pay their dues online
  • creating and managing an online community for members to network with one another
  • hosting a learning management system
  • planning events
  • so much 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.

Membership management software is a broad, umbrella term. This category o software caters to a wide range of organization types that have members, including chambers of commerce, non-profits, clubs and associations.

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 and lets associations automate dues renewals, accept payments online, build membership tiers and more.

The Top Features You’ll Need For Your AMS

Different association management systems offer different functionality and features. Some may be bells and whistles while others are must-haves you should actively seek out when choosing an AMS.

Must-have functions for an AMS include:

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 membership 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 works with whatever website you have. 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 planning.

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 or works with a conference app to simply registration, payment collection, attendee data management and event organization.

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

Association management software was built to streamline daily tasks for associations and to improve efficiency for association members and staff.

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

Every AMS has different offerings when it comes to functionality and pricing options. Some software is priced lower to be budget-friendly for startups and small associations. These options may lack some features as a tradeoff for the lower cost. Other feature-rich software may have a higher price tag, but are often built with all the features you’d love to have.

That’s why it’s crucial to understand your organization’s unique needs when it comes to an AMS and to really think about what functionality is a must-have for you.

To assess what AMS would work best for your organization, follow a few steps:

1. Think about and write down your goals and 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.

2. Research and book demos

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. You can also book demos of ones that seem like good fits to really understand how they function and can work with your association.

3. 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?

4. 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 has a lot of built in features that make it the top option for organizations in need of association management software. As a part of the Personify Community Experience Platform, our software also connects with Classroom LMS, JobBoard and CommUnity to really help your association thrive. 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

If you want to learn about other AMS options, check out our full list here.

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.

Free Member Retention Guide

Ready to retain members and keep them coming back forever and ever? This guide will teach you everything you need to know about member retention. We cover all the basics, like the first steps to member retention and how to map out your member journey. From there, we dive a bit deeper into retention tips.