I recently returned from Association Trends’ AMSfest Summer 2022 in Chicago. This is a meeting where Association Management Software (AMS) vendors pitch their software to the large number of association leaders that are unhappy with their current AMS, under the watchful eye of consultants that associations engage to make sure they make the best possible choice.

It’s a hard process to watch as an outsider, as it can feel like associations are on a hamster wheel of disappointment. Many of the conversations I had eventually devolved to existential discussions about the role an AMS should play in an association’s tech stack in the future. Many association leaders had so many issues with their current AMS, yet they were hopeful  that a migration to a new one would somehow solve their issues.

In an increasingly data-driven world, AMS tech is struggling to keep up, especially as association leaders are trying to solve digital transformation post-pandemic. They’re wondering: do I have a technology issue, or a strategy issue? Will my problems be solved by migrating to a new AMS, or am I just moving to “the house next door.”? Do I have a larger issue with the role that technology needs to play in moving my organization forward?

The Role of the AMS in Association Operations

Association Management Software (AMS) is, at its heart, a subscription management system. But over time, various vendors started adding new modules to their software to try to solve the varied needs of their customers. Today there are more than 100 AMS systems, and more are emerging every year. What started out processing member applications and managing member records started to include modules for email marketing, community, job boards, education and credentialing, and even events management.  

That’s a lot of jobs for one piece of technology. Can it possibly do all of them well? If you’re big into IT and data infrastructure conversations, you already know that modern organizations are moving away from monolithic technology solutions, opting for integrated, best-in-class solutions for individual use cases.

In the case of AMS-esque solutions, that means not migrating to a new AMS that is a jack-of-all, master-of none. It means asking your AMS to manage your membership and investing in the best possible solution for events, education, community, customer data organization, and so on. And it means integrating these best-in-class pieces of technology to get more out of each piece without sacrificing the unification your organization needs to function cohesively. The key is in the integration.

Does YOUR Association Have a Data Problem?

Many of the association leaders I met with at AMSFest thought they had a technology problem specific to their AMS. I believe their problem is broader, and more urgent. They have a data problem.

Associations who’ve leaned on sub-par AMS tech for years haven’t been properly classifying the data touchpoints that truly provide insight into what their members want, need, and expect. 

Sure, they may know Jane Doe is late on re-upping her annual membership. They know she attended last year’s annual meeting. They know she hasn’t made a purchase since. But do they know why? And more importantly, do they know how to recover the relationship?

Getting Jane to renew her membership is all about providing value – time and time again – with every interaction with the association. In order to do that, the association must truly know her. That’s hard to do. But the good news is that we live in a time where data gives you insight into the motivations and behavior of individual members. And there is technology that can provide that knowledge at scale.

With the right best-in-class technology, purpose-built for specific use cases, your association can know exactly which webpages Jane Doe visited following last year’s annual meeting, and which ones she found most engaging. You can understand which topics on your blog or in your learning center are most appealing to Jane. You can drill down to the exact emails that led her to click to learn more, versus those she ignored altogether. Together, data like this tells a detailed and compelling story about Jane’s relationship with your organization. 

Collecting & Unifying Data to Better Understand Your Members

To rectify this data issue requires more than a migration to a new AMS (even if it’s a more modern AMS). It’s to truly invest in understanding your members and broader audience on an individual level. 

This means working towards a broader strategic shift in your technology strategy. It means investing in collecting the right data and employing the right methods for understanding that data. Yes, this sounds like a big undertaking, but it doesn’t have to happen all at once.

Our recommended approach to digital transformation is to take it one step at a time. We’ve created a step-by-step guide to digital transformation to help associations understand where to focus their time and energy to make their path to transformation as seamless (and painless) as possible.
Click here to download the guide.