Membership Software: What Associations Should Keep in Mind

Whether you’re in the market for an MMS or an AMS, there are a lot of details to consider. Here are a few you should be thinking of as you research.

In normal years, membership management software (MMS) or association management software (AMS) providers would fill expo halls at annual meetings. That’s not happening this year—but associations’ software needs haven’t changed.

Consider this primer to be a 101 seminar or booth meeting in that expo hall, giving you broad considerations that associations should keep in mind when deciding what kind of software to use. Among them:

Data Portability

Traditionally, the AMS has been seen as the hub that an association’s data goes through. That could be changing—and your software needs to be able to adapt.

Last year, Nucleus Analytics did an analysis of its clients and found that on average, only 20 percent of an association’s data came from its AMS. With everything from content management systems to email platforms leveraging the data in your AMS, we may be past the point where everything can live in one place. Instead, associations need tools that allow data to stream through in a variety of settings.

We’re in an era where application programming interfaces are increasingly important to the way businesses work, and data has to live in more places. And an AMS or MMS that is an island unto itself can slow down your potential for innovation.

Security and Privacy

A major topic in the world of associations has been data privacy, in part because recent regulations have forced the issue front and center.

Among them: The 2018 implementation of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation and the passage of the California Consumer Privacy Act. (While CCPA doesn’t affect most nonprofits, it could affect your vendors.) Additionally, though, there is the simple issue of public relations: People take data privacy issues more seriously than they once did and are wary of security risks.

For associations looking at membership software, it is worth understanding the efforts platforms take to safeguard data, as well as their records on compliance with international security standards. As Nimble AMS said on its website, it’s also important to know where your provider stands on transparency.

Ease of Use

We’re no longer in a world where we can live with hard-to-use internal tools. Users expect more—it’s a key reason that employees leave companies with poorly functioning technology, and it has even created a trend in recent years of former consumer apps being adapted into B2B alternatives.

Many AMS platforms have both user-facing and employee-facing portions, and a bad experience with either could be a deterrent to both members and staff. As a result, associations must prioritize user experience.

“Usability testing must always be part of your AMS requirements, including the testing of self-service applications,” Delcor’s Dan Hickey wrote in a blog post. “Don’t assume your AMS vendor will include this critical step in the project. It’s your responsibility to make sure it’s part of the project plan.”

Cost and Maintenance

While there may be an upfront cost that your association pays to set up a platform, the price of an AMS or MMS ultimately goes hand in hand with the way that it’s managed.

For example, if your association buys a more monolithic system that is managed onsite, this might require in-house staff to handle upgrades and security fixes, which could increase costs.

“It’s incredibly important to dedicate personnel hours to both of these as the process matures. Asking existing staff to manage an AMS implementation on top of their day-to-day jobs can easily burden the most optimistic and efficient teams,” wrote Aptify’s Jennifer Barrell in a blog post. “This might mean you’ll need to upstaff during this time or reallocate internal resources, which will impact project costs.”

More recently, there’s been a push for cloud-based hosted solutions in the space (often called software as a service, or SaaS), which turn the cost into more of a monthly or annual fee. The plus side with this approach is that much of the maintenance is handled by the vendor, but it is generally not customized to an association’s needs. (Speaking of: Customization is often considered risky when it comes to long-term maintenance of an AMS or MMS; the ability to configure is preferred.)

While some open-source solutions exist in the AMS field, such as Tendenci, they will naturally have ongoing maintenance needs that must be accounted for.

Ultimately, this aspect of the implementation comes down to your association’s needs and thoughtful research of the market.

(Delmaine Donson/E+/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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