5 Questions to Ask Before Jumping Ship on Your AMS

Associations // Two misconceptions: the assumption your AMS should be an all-in-one solution for every business objective, and the notion that switching providers is a necessary requirement to fill any gaps.

Gabrielle Wathen
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An effective association management system (AMS) helps your association improve functionality, streamline operations, empower your members, and increase growth rate. In short, a great AMS is essential.

But, what happens when your AMS isn’t meeting all the needs that you think it should meet? Do you switch? When faced with this decision, there are two common misconceptions many associations fall victim to:

1. The assumption that their AMS should be an all-in-one solution for every business objective.

2. If their AMS isn’t the all-in-one-solution they thought it would be, they think switching AMS providers is the best solution to fill those gaps.

If this sounds familiar, trust us, your association is not alone in contemplating a switch. However, we’ve seen far too many associations waste valuable time and resources on a switch, only to run into similar dissatisfaction with their new database down the road.

Help us help you avoid this.

We know, we know… you have your reasons for wanting to switch your AMS, but what are they? Our experience tells us you can save your association from months of costly deliberation and implementation woes.

Address these five questions before jumping ship.

First Things First: Understand The Core Purpose of an AMS

At its core, an AMS houses your member data and processes payments related to things like membership dues, donations, and registrations. If you are switching your AMS because it falls short in delivering excellence in these categories, we understand.

However, if improving the member experience is what’s behind your perceived need to update your AMS, you’re focusing your efforts in the wrong place – updating your database isn’t going to accomplish this.

Rather, you should look to adopting the best member experience product to achieve your specific objective. Don’t buy a hammer when you need a screwdriver.

When you rely solely on an AMS to target every single objective, you’ll likely notice a natural shift to mediocrity, when other built-in tools could deliver better quality (such as email marketing, event registration, and website functionality). If you switch your AMS provider to get better features in one area, let’s say member communications, then you’ll probably notice another shortcoming in your new AMS. For example, maybe now it’s not so strong in event registration details. Then you might want to switch again, to solve that weakness. Do you see what we mean? It can become a neverending (and expensive) cycle.

An AMS (and really any tool) isn’t meant to do everything well. It’s nearly impossible for one company to be amazing at addressing every single facet of your needs while delivering consistent value across the board. Your AMS should excel at being a database, because that’s what it is!

If your AMS is great at being your database, by all means, keep it.

Fixing other problems you might have is where trusted partnerships and other integrated tools come into play. Check out the resource below for where to start, and keep reading for more details on each tool:

1. What’s the Real Issue: Your AMS or Implementation?

Long story short: on too many occasions we have heard horror stories from customers who spent months in deliberation just to realize that their database was never the issue – it was how it was implemented.

Look to how you implemented your database. If it wasn’t implemented well or isn’t pulling in the right data, focus on fixing that problem first before you think about switching databases entirely.

If your AMS is in tip-top shape, then the next step is making sure your other tools are integrated.

This means figuring out what else you need to fill the gaps and provide a great member experience.

2. Have You Integrated Marketing Automation Tools?

You want to send a series of emails to members who need to renew soon. Your AMS only recognizes their membership start dates – it doesn’t tell you their level of engagement, interest in events and benefits, or likelihood of renewal.

Rather than switching databases to fill in this communication gap (and those to follow), assess the situation and determine the right tools to achieve your specific goals. Then, make sure they can integrate with your current AMS, and put them to work together to achieve your objectives (in far less time).

This is where marketing automation tools come in.

Poor email functionality or limited personalization tools hinder your association from sending the right message to the right people at the right time, and this type of action has a measurable impact on membership renewal and retention. With marketing automation, you’re using behavior-based marketing, and you have the capability to observe your users’ interactions with your content, as well as tailor it for them. This data can then be added to the member profiles in your AMS.

Learn more about marketing automation and its capabilities:

3. Have You Integrated Online Community Tools?

If your focus as an association is more member engagement, then fostering a sense of community is key.

An online community thrives when it provides your members with the tools they need to maximize the value of their investment, and in a not-so-shocking twist, your AMS isn’t going to be the best option for delivering that improved, member-to-member experience. That’s just not what it’s designed to do.

When you’re ready to assess your community goals on a greater scale, consider implementing software that positions member value, engagement, and ease-of-use at the forefront of success. Find the right tools and components to complement your technology and improve the overall member experience.

For example, effective online community tools should maximize membership value by making it simple for your members to find and connect with each other, facilitate discussions, share knowledge, forge valuable mentorships, stay current with association news and event registration, and expand their overall personal and professional growth opportunities.

When your members feel empowered to engage, they are more likely to stick around, volunteer, and advocate for your association in the future (thus improving retention and boosting revenue).  

Remember: Your AMS was not built for this.

The good news: community software integrates well with AMS. This way, all your great data is continuously updated through community updates.

Check out these resources about community tools:

Download the Community Roundtable's State of Community Management Report

4. Are You Seeking More Reporting and Analytics Capabilities?

A lot of AMS’ actually offer strong reporting, with help from partnerships with outside companies to deliver in-depth analytics. But, this is often contrasted with a weakness in member data collection.

If you’re seeking more data on your members, you’re wise to do so. Trust us, it’s out there – just consider all of the personal and professional data we willingly share on social platforms when we take actions as simple as updating our job title on LinkedIn, or geotagging our location in a Facebook post.

But here’s the thing: you get transactional data in an AMS (you can see if members renew or attend an event), but what you can’t see is how often they are taking actions like contributing to discussions about that event or posting comments comparing one event versus the other.

We know you want to understand what matters most to your members to better serve and retain them, so it’s all about supplementing the data your AMS already collects for you.

How? Why?

  • Make sure your AMS and community data are synced
    • Your AMS should take advantage of other reporting tools, and an online community is a great tool for collecting valuable data that will improve your ability to maximize member scoring and analytics, thus increasing your chances of boosting renewal and retention.
  • Make sure you’re collecting more than just names and dates  
    • Your AMS relies on extra tools to supply further data and maximize its value, so be sure to collect the data you really need in addition to the data you have access to.  
  • Make sure you’re integrating among tools, not just between
    • Your community is a great tool for data, but so is marketing automation and other reporting tools. Make sure all of those tools are writing back data to your AMS it shouldn’t be a one way street of information. Your AMS shouldn’t do everything, but it should connect everything.

Seize the opportunity to maximize what you currently have, and rely on your AMS to be the hub of it all, quantifying all that data even further.

Check out these resources to learn more about getting useful data:

5. Do You Want a Stronger Content Management System (CMS)?

Maybe you’re dissatisfied because your AMS doesn’t provide a strong CMS – this is not a reason to switch AMS providers. Again, an AMS isn’t designed to be a CMS. A functional CMS will allow you to effectively control privacy, facilitate members-only areas within your website or online community, and position other aspects of your content on public facing web pages.

So consider integrating a CMS that is known for its strengths in delivering core functionality and providing the support your web presence needs.

It’s worth noting that algorithms like within Google Analytics value user-to-user content, so it’s smart to assess whether your current tools, and the ones you’re considering, are more focused on improving front-end functionality (member experience), back-end functionality (staff operations), or both.

We’d hate (and you’d hate it more) for your association to waste a ton of time and money on a database switch just to learn that a different CMS component or simple website redesign could have filled these gaps in performance.

Here’s a bit more on assessing and improving your web presence:

To Switch or Not to Switch? Make an Informed Decision

An AMS can and should be a data hub for your organization, but it’s up to you to fill the gaps in your strategy. Invest in the right tools to fix what could be wrong before falling victim to the assumption that switching your AMS is the end-all-be-all requirement to address these concerns and maximize your success.

Keep in mind that AMS improvements are staff-facing and community/website improvements are member-facing. An AMS implementation or upgrade is invisible to your members at best, painful at worst. A new community or better web experience is a gift to those same members and will pay off in spades. So yes, there are reasons to get a new AMS, but the wires often get crossed, leading to unmet expectations.

Further your knowledge with more resources to better understand this important choice:

Gabrielle Wathen

Content Marketing Manager, Flockjay

Gabrielle is the Content Marketing Manager at Flockjay. She has a background in journalism, film, and marketing. When she’s not writing, you can find her cuddling her cats Harvey and Wilbur, traveling the world, or storytelling in any way she can. Favorite food: All things cheese. Favorite place: Black Rock City, NV.

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