A First-Timer’s Guide to Association Management Software Selection

New to the association world? Here’s a quick guide to help you through your first association management software selection process.

By Brian Smith – Communications Specialist

When’s the right time for your organization to start looking for new association management software (AMS)? Well, here’s a trick that will get you and other staff members to start thinking seriously about embarking on the sometimes-daunting process that is AMS selection.

The next time you’re about to start a major project that relies heavily on your AMS, stop and think for a minute. In that moment, do you expect that you’ll encounter some workarounds within the system? Are you already resigned to referencing the user’s guide? Are you preparing for the fact that everything won’t go perfectly?

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, it’s probably time to start weighing your AMS options.

But, if it’s your first time leading an AMS selection project, you may be a little intimidated by the process. There’s a lot to consider. If you’re new to the association world, it can be even more challenging. Association rookies have no reason to be aware of any of the top vendors, so there’s almost zero chance you’d have heard of any of the smaller shops.

With that said, where should a first-timer kick off their AMS buyer’s journey? Here are my top tips to get your AMS selection project started on the right foot.

Association Management Software Selection Suggestions

1 – Gather Information

The first real step to association management software selection is picking a project leader. To keep this post concise, let’s assume that’s you. Your first task as a project leader? Set up an AMS selection committee and start gathering information.

By no means does the AMS selection committee need to be a formal, sit-down discussion set at the same time every week. What’s more important is learning what everyone on the committee wants from your next AMS and what everyone needs. Then, seek out systems that most closely aligns with both.

If your association employs a lot of remote workers, this conversation can take place with a collaborative document editing platform like Google Docs, or collaboration software like Microsoft Teams. Have stakeholders from each key department add their system “must haves,” and use the list to help narrow your field of options. Need a tiebreaker when a few vendors meet the needs of the AMS selection committee? Turn to your list of “wants.”

Once you have a strong understanding of the association’s needs, turn the committee’s suggestions into a checklist of must-have items. With that checklist in hand, join some of your peers at association events like the ASAE Technology Conference or AMS Fest to get some face-time with several vendors.

Attend events like AMS Fest (pictured) to see demos from all of the top vendors in just two days

2 – Find Your Platform

One of the biggest hurdles a first-time AMS buyer faces is simply knowing the players. Who does what? And why is Vendor A better than Vendor B?

While you may not recognize the vendors, you’ll certainly recognize the platforms upon which the most feature-laden systems are built: Microsoft or Salesforce.

The simplest way to improve your chances of picking the right AMS is to whittle the field down to these platform-based systems. Microsoft Dynamics 365, for instance, is backed by billions of dollars in research and development, a number no proprietary system could ever dream of.

Why go with one of the top platform-based AMS systems?  Associations ready to move to the cloud can expect to have easy, periodic system improvements.  Other “cloud-based” systems will need to perform more disruptive and invasive updates to the AMS.

3 – Ask About Integrations and Implementations

There are two things most member-based associations need their AMS to do: integrate with current systems and produce accurate reports. If your learning management system (LMS) or accounting software, for example, can’t operate seamlessly with your AMS, that’s not the AMS for your association. If you can’t easily tell a story with member data through your vendor’s reports and dashboards, you either need a new AMS or a third-party reporting tool.

Throughout the association management software selection process, never forget about integrations and reporting. These two aspects of selection regularly become issues for associations that are not using the right system, so be sure to circle back to both every time you’re chatting with a vendor.

About the Author: Joining Protech Associates in 2018, Brian is responsible for sharing the tremendous benefits of Microsoft Dynamics 365 with member-based nonprofits.  Brian previously worked in event management, and also wrote grants for program funding at a local Maryland nonprofit organization.