AMS Systems

Membership Pros’ Love/Hate Relationship With AMS Systems

An association management software system can be a crucial tool for success in a membership organization—and also a possible source of frustration.

The happiness of an association membership pro, perhaps more than staff from any other department, likely hinges day to day on the performance of a key IT system: association management software.

The AMS, at its core, is where membership happens: It’s where data is stored, where joins and renewals are processed, and where engagement is tracked. A lot rests on that system.

So, it might come as no surprise that membership professionals are, in a word, demanding of their AMS systems. Compared with association chief executives and IT pros, membership pros rate their AMS systems slightly lower on reliability, ease of use, customer service, and customization.

IT pros like their AMS platforms the most. Membership pros have a somewhat less rosy view. (Source: Analytics)

This finding comes from analysis conducted by Bear Analytics of the growing set of reviews at (See the full infographic [PDF].) Launched in May, the site features more than 230 reviews of 35 AMS systems, as of last week. Founder Teri Carden says she built the site to help associations tackle the challenge of AMS selection, having been through several selections herself in her time as an association professional and continuing to hear the concerns of stressed colleagues in the industry. “It doesn’t take you very long to be at an association-related reception or networking event and for the conversation to turn to AMSes,” she says. “And the sentiments around the AMS discussion are never high.”

Finding the perfect AMS is like finding the perfect husband or wife.

So far, the reviews on the site match Carden’s initial perceptions. Associations appear to be somewhat unenthusiastic about their AMS platforms. Overall, 58 percent would recommend their current AMS to another association, and across all AMS solutions, reviewers give fair but not stellar ratings: 3.3 (out of five) for reliability, 2.7 for ease of use, 3.0 for customer service, and 2.8 for customization.

Reading reviews on the site is a similar experience to reading product reviews on Amazon or restaurant reviews on Yelp. Often, a gushing review from one user is followed by a dismal one from another. Both the average ratings and the specifics in the reviews could surely prove helpful for an association in the AMS-selection process, but a greater lesson may be that no tech solution as far-reaching as an AMS will be perfect.

“Finding the perfect AMS is like finding the perfect husband or wife,” Carden says. “They just don’t exist. They’re not out there. So, just find the one that fits your organization’s needs and requirements best, and from there then do the best you can to make it work. … That’s about all you can do with any technology that you have.”

Carden says the vendor/client relationship is crucial. Customer service stands out among the reviews as perhaps the most common source of satisfaction or dissatisfaction. Carden notes one pair of reviews from similar associations in similar industries with the same AMS but different opinions of it. The happy one paid extra money to build some needed custom reports, while the other did not and was ready to switch.

“What I’m telling associations to ask themselves is, first of all, do you know the breadth of the features of your system? Second of all, have you tried to get custom-built some little pieces of it to prevent you from changing?” Carden says. “At all costs, don’t move. Quit moving because of one little tweaky thing that’s not working. Do everything that you can to work with that vendor to make it work before you just throw it out and say you need a new AMS.”

The membership department sits in a powerful position when it comes to the AMS. Membership’s needs are such a central priority that it may cast the most influential vote in an AMS-selection process. And, Carden notes, in the case of small associations without a dedicated IT team, the membership department may be put in charge of such a process.

Still, the AMS choice must be workable for a litany of other functions: finance, education, events, marketing, e-commerce, and more. (Here is where we should express some sympathy for our friends in the AMS-provider community, who continue to innovate and enhance their solutions in the face of an industry that is incredibly diverse and idiosyncratic. It can’t be easy.) Carden says membership can be the hub for helping those other users have their needs met in the AMS, as well.

“Bringing those other departments in—I know the ones that have done that have been glad that they did,” she says. “It’s brought other efficiencies, and there have been new ideas that have come about from other departments on how to use the AMS when they’re brought to the table to help make the decision.”

I’m curious what association membership professionals think: What are the driving decision factors for you in evaluating your current association management system or a potential new one? What have been your chief successes and challenges with AMS platforms? And how do those membership needs compare with other departments within your association? Please share in the comments.


Joe Rominiecki

By Joe Rominiecki

Joe Rominiecki, manager of communications at the Entomological Society of America, is a former senior editor at Associations Now. MORE

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