What the heck is Association Membership Software?

We discuss what an AMS or Membership Software for nonprofits is all about here.

Quite frankly, we all fall victim of “assuming” that everyone in our particular universe knows the acronyms which we use. As a result, in this article I wanted to take a step back and simply provide an outline of the who, what, where, why and when of Association Membership Software for those “new” to the terminology.

Association Membership Software

To put it simply, an AMS stands for Association Management Software. An AMS is a software program designed to help membership nonprofit organizations keep track of items such as members, donors, memberships, collect dues, and register members for events. It’s a record management and engagement system for nonprofit membership organizations. These programs often come with additional features such as: dedicated association websites, government relations advocacy, Social communities, e-commerce, Financials, & payment processing.

Who needs AMS software?

Organizations both big and small make use of Association Membership Systems. Often, these associations start out by managing their member information and other statistics manually, either on a spreadsheet or using another offline database program such as MS Access or Excel. In time, associations grow and expand, gaining new members, adding more tasks, collecting dues, planning more events, and forming larger and more complex leadership structures. Of course, this growth means the necessity for organization becomes more urgent than ever to keep everything running smoothly. Add in a few more items such as recruitment and e-mail newsletters, and the processes that once were relatively quick and simple for association executives to handle manually have become a tremendous undertaking, consuming vast amounts of time. This is the reason Association Membership Systems software was created.

What basic functions do most offer?

AMS software can vary widely depending on what specific needs they were created to handle. Here are three examples of the most commonly seen functions from AMS providers:

Membership Relationship Management –

Membership management is a way to keep the organization’s members organized. It aids them by keeping their member information and membership status filed in the appropriate areas. Using this function, your members can automatically update their profile information, pay membership dues, and update their current membership status without requiring the hassle of someone picking out the individual file and changing it manually when these things need to be edited or updated. What is unique here is that membership management is loosely used to describe all aspects of basic demographic management to the financial accounting needed to handle all that is unique about an Association.

e Commerce with Integrated Website Management –

An AMS can host many online e Commerce functions including event registration to streamline the process for your members, in turn increasing revenue. If you have ever purchased event tickets online, you know how much easier online hosted registration is compared to manually filling out a form and mailing in a check. Additionally, there is an integrated payment system which will allow members to easily pay their dues or buy products online via credit card. The seamless integration here is important, because at any given time you will potentially be juggling separate vendors (the AMS software,  Payment processors, & Website) Having them work together effortlessly will save you a lot of stress and headaches.

Engagement, Participation, and Community-

At the core of an Association is community. Besides being a record keeping system, an AMS systems needs to help foster participation. Most AMS software will often give members-only access to a forum dedicated to photo sharing, discussions, and other topics related to the association. Just imagine how easy it would be for a planning committee to organize an event if they were able to share files and notes over one centralized system. AMS solutions can also safeguard private or sensitive information on the organization’s website with the use of a secure login. You will be in control of the visibility permissions and can easily alter them at any time.

Of course, each AMS is unique in what features they offer, but these areas are key tenants of what most AMS solution providers offer. You will need to decide what you require from an integrated AMS. Now, let’s dig into other areas.

Where Can I Purchase The Software?

Like many things, the process to purchase the software can start with a simple internet search. However, I believe that this may be a futile approach for many new to this industry. You may find value in speaking with a sales representative at an appropriate trade show or event. But, ultimately you will purchase (rent the software) from either a value added reseller or the software provider directly.

When will I know an AMS is needed?

In my opinion, Nonprofit membership based organizations in all stages of function can benefit from AMS software. That being said, most don’t realize they need it until the sheer amount of information needing to be processed becomes overwhelming. They have outgrown the current database.

What will Membership Software for nonprofits cost?

Membership systems costs vary widely depending on what solution your organization plans to implement. There can often be start-up costs, monthly fees, and other such payments. We provide many specifics of costs in the various software product reports we provide.

Why Do I Need Association Membership Manager Software?

Those in charge of keeping their association or organization running smoothly have enough on their plates. Trying manually to juggle member and event information with outdated systems will inevitably become too much to handle by one’s self. You should consider saving yourself time, money, and sanity by implementing an AMS before it gets to that point, it will just make things that much easier further down the road.

There are vast numbers of choices of AMS software available, but luckily you don’t have to wade through them alone. At SmartThoughts, we can help you decide on the software that will be just the right fit for your unique situation.

Additionally, feel free to contact us directly with any questions you may have.

Association Membership Manager Software  defined and explained in this article.

How much should you pay for Association Nonprofit Software

How much should you pay for Membership Software today?

How much does AMS membership software cost? And, how much should we budget?

In this article, we wanted to explore the money questions we get quite a bit from nonprofit and association executives.

From our experience, Nonprofit Associations are very good about benchmarking. In a sector where donors and members scrutinize where the money is going, benchmarking is used with success. If a nonprofit doesn’t benchmark outcomes, there is certainly a third-party agency which likely is!

The Study Cited for Membership Software Budget 

Recently, we reviewed a study conducted in 2013 by CliftonLarsonAllen on behalf of the Texas Society of Association Executives (a wonderful resource!). The “Texas Associations Matter” study outlined the economic impact which nonprofit associations have on the Texas economy. Further, the comprehensive study outlined the specific demographic details of the roughly 1,900 organizations in the state. Here are some takeaways from an IT software perspective which may help all nonprofits in every state answer the questions above:

  • Small associations (less one million in revenue) represented 71% of the total association nonprofits in Texas
  • Across all association size classes (Small, Midsize, Large) each year associations in the state of Texas spend about 3% on technology and web expenses
  • Small Associations (less than 1 million in revenue) on average spend about 5% on technology and web expenses

Apart from the mere fact that everything is bigger in Texas (You know we are still a Republic, right?), if you believe in the value of benchmarking data, this study suggests that you should at a bare minimum be spending 3% of your operating budget a year on software technology for your nonprofit association.

I would like to stress, at a minimum. Because, in order to truly keep up it will be important for your organization to consider spending more. You must consider going beyond the averages to excel and grow. Nonprofits and Associations are competing with so many entities today for mind share and remaining viable. It’s not enough just to “keep up” with the “Joneses’ of the Nonprofit Community”. Rather, moving forward into the 21st Century executives are going to have to think of new ways to grow and attract new members/donors in ways that they have never imagined. And, technology will be a big part of helping in that effort.

What Should you Budget for Membership Software? 

In the book, “Race for Relevance, 5 Radical Changes for Associations“, the author, Harrison Coerver, underscores the point that Associations will need to invest more in the future to remain relevant. In essence, he believes that conventional wisdom of the old guard must change in order to adapt to the “new frontier” of associations. The conventional approaches and paradigms of yesteryear no longer fit in an environment that’s been fundamentally and irreversibly changed. Harrison also stresses that technology (web and software combined) will quickly become an integral component of an associations functioning and performance. And, to realize this will require a major shift in the mindset of association nonprofit executives across the board to truly embrace technology rather than begrudgingly invest in it. In short, he says that your “spend” should be in the range of 8% to 10% of total revenue to remain competitive.

Just to reiterate, this is double what is transpiring now in the great state of Texas. And, I would venture to assume that other states are similar if not less in spend than Texas. Wouldn’t you?

So, how much should you budget on your website, information technology and nonprofit association software?

Where is the lovely sweet spot?
How much is enough?

Well, in most expert opinions, your nonprofit needs to spend at least the minimum but even more should be considered to grow and remain relevant.  But, the answer for your particular organization will vary. Hopefully, this information can be used as a discussion point to put some perspective on your next budget meeting for information technology. As we stress quite a bit here, it is important to set realistic expectations.

The good news for most forward thinking nonprofits is that most systems today are in the reach of even the smallest nonprofits. The key is finding the right one for you based on all factors involved including a realistic budget.

If you need help auditing your needs or gaining some consensus on software choices, please reach out to us. Until then, keep SmartThoughts in mind!

Free Membership Software Purchase Guide for Nonprofits