The search for the perfect AMS
If you are in association management, then I’m betting you are familiar with Association Management Systems (AMS). They are catch-all software systems that are crucial to tracking everything from membership dues to event registrations to e-communications. Whether you are starting a client on an AMS for the first time or find yourself in the market to switch over to a different AMS, whatever you choose is a crucial decision that impacts your day-to-day operations. Here are some things to consider when searching for your perfect AMS:
1. What is the strength of the AMS and how does it compare to the goals of your association?
Unfortunately, no one product will work for all associations. In fact, according to Effective Database Management, there are at least 52 different AMS vendors to choose from and each AMS has its strengths (and weaknesses) that should be considered next to the goals of your association.
Are you a member-based organization that needs an AMS with the abilities to track member renewals and activity? Do you have a robust volunteer structure with a lot of committees that need to be tracked? Are you a meetings-based organization that needs a system with a registration module and an easy way to track event revenue? Your answer to these questions will narrow the pool of vendors you should consider for your AMS
AMPED has used the same AMS product for all its clients with the exception of one: the Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ACTRIMS). AMPED staff are currently in the process of acquiring an AMS for ACTRIMS and, while it might have been easier to just go with the AMS that we are most familiar with, the strengths of that AMS did not match the goals of ACTRIMS. Where our other organizations are member-based, ACTRIMS is a meeting-based organization, priding and sustaining itself on holding educational meetings, therefore, it needs a product that can support meetings technology.
2. What is necessary vs. desired with the new system?
As part of our search for an AMS, we hired a technology consulting firm, DelCor, to guide us through the selection process. To narrow our vendor pool, DelCor set up three meetings with ACTRIMS staff that lasted 2+ hours to discuss our day-to-day operations, how the meetings are structured, and other vendors the AMS might need to integrate with. Taking the time to thoroughly discuss these items clarified our “needs” versus our “wants” and helped us prioritize our selection criteria. These criteria have been the backbone of our, so far, seven-month search and we have found it helpful to reference them throughout the process as our priorities change.
3. Do you need a second demo?
Or a third? While we have not finalized anything yet, we are confident that we know which AMS vendor we will be using. I believe that we were collectively able to make a decision because we had requested a second demo. The preliminary demo process was extensive, with staff sitting through five different vendor demos. After that, we selected finalists to submit proposals. However, during the review process when we consulted our notes from the demos, we found that our memories of the different products were a little fuzzy. Setting up one more demo answered any burning questions or hesitations we might have had going with the vendor.
Plus, in the time between the first and second demo, upgrades had been made to the software, resulting in an AMS that ended up being an even better fit than expected!