How to engage my members using AMS technology

Member engagement is absolutely vital for the growth of your organization; have you considered the role of your Association Management Software (AMS) in the member lifecycle? The AMS is almost like the wizard hidden behind the curtain. Members may never interact with the guts of it, but how well it functions can certainly impact their experience with the organization and ultimately, whether they stay or go.

Looking at the AMS through that lens can be a helpful tool for associations as they evaluate their current setup and identify areas of improvement. Though every organization has unique needs and challenges, there are a few common ways that AMS technology can fail your members.

Improper Set Up

Common AMS Issues

Your members will never see the AMS directly, but it can lead to embarrassing situations when the integrations and data orientation in the AMS are not right. Have you ever dealt with issues such as, members try to register for an event but get the wrong price? Or your donations are set up to process through your AMS e-commerce system, but members get a receipt as if it’s a purchase instead of as a donation, so they can’t get a break on taxes? If your AMS is not set up correctly, these kinds of embarrassing problems that cost time and money to rectify are damaging your member experience.

Association Needs Have Changed

It’s not uncommon for associations to purchase an AMS without having a clear picture of how they intend to use it. If your organization didn’t have clear business goals developed, or if those goals have changed, your AMS is likely not serving your team OR your members adequately. Your goals for your AMS should be clear, data-driven, and address specific pain points and struggles. 

Can’t Get the Right Data Out

Of all of these issues, likely the most important is, “I can’t get the right data from my database.” This often occurs because your organization struggles to put the right data INTO the database. Not all AMS have the same capabilities for reporting, and it’s important that your AMS meets your reporting needs. Having access to comprehensive, accurate reporting and dashboards is a huge part of making smart business decisions that benefit your members and promote growth. Having accurate data is also key for implementing smarter engagement strategies, such as personalization and optimization.

Inadequate Integrations

 Associations need their AMS to do a lot of heavy lifting. It’s supposed to be the CRM, manage your committees, products, events, exhibits, sponsorships, certifications, and more. Most AMS can do some of those things, and you supplement with integrations. In those margins of the integrations, where those functions are vulnerable to issues, you’ll find pain points. Those integrations need to work well together in order to maintain an excellent member experience with your technology. 

For example, e-commerce UX is a common pain point for associations, where they are more likely to deal with frustrated members and expend staff time on managing a cumbersome checkout process. 

Everything from paying dues and establishing member privileges to marketing functions is affected by how well your AMS functions and the quality of your integrations. The less seamlessly integrated the systems are, the more likely it is that your members are feeling it, too. 

Ease of Use

How easy is it for staff to use your AMS? If it’s too complicated, it doesn’t particularly matter how many features it has, or how cheap it is. Associations often don’t adequately measure how much staff time that an AMS takes to operate, but it’s an important factor. If you have to create a lot of workarounds to get things done, your organization isn’t operating efficiently. So many organizations couldn’t function without Excel, but that information also has to be in the database to get the most use out of it. Time your staff spends on AMS management and workarounds is time that could be spent on more profitable member engagement and retention activities.


So how do we address these problems and get your AMS in fighting shape to do more for your members? Here are a few potential solutions.

Solution #1: Clearly Define Your Business Goals

Your leadership team needs to understand and define your business goals, what you expect each system to do and what you expect them to do together. Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • What are my business initiatives? Can they fit together?
  • What are you trying to accomplish that a piece of technology could help you with? 
  • What do I want this system to do?
  • What things are going well with my current systems and processes?
  • How easy is it for staff to use your AMS?
  • How many workarounds do you have to create to get things done?
  • How much do I want to spend?

You have to know what your business goals are first. It’s also important to identify what things are going well, as you’ll want to preserve that function when you make changes OR try to replicate it in a new system. Your leadership team will also need to identify how your initiatives fit together and where they compete. Your association may not be able to rely on a single AMS for every function, but it’s important to outline all your needs so you can understand where you’ll need to supplement with integrations. Lastly, you’ll need a solid handle on your budget. You could easily spend $100,000 or $1M. Finding a balance between your needs and your budget is important. 

When you evaluate these questions from a different perspective, “what will increase organizational efficiency and improve member experience?” you will find that clarifies your goals and helps surface priorities.

Solution #2: Change the Process 

A lot of associations overcomplicate member structure and dues structure. Sometimes your leadership team is able to simplify that process, and sometimes it’s not possible. Generally speaking, you should aim to simplify membership and dues structures as much as possible. If it’s complicated for you, it’s complicated for your members.

The same applies to workflow. Examining your processes to identify where there are too many people and too much time involved is key for identifying process areas that need improvement. Process reengineering is a constant challenge. Sometimes the AMS is to blame, but often it’s the process that needs to be fine-tuned.

If you’ve done due diligence (you’ve identified your business goals and improved your processes) and you still are experiencing issues that are impacting your members, it may be time for a new AMS. Certain things will kill an AMS, and a lot of it may be service level issues. 

Solution #3: A new AMS

So when is it time to break up with your AMS? If your needs have changed. If the technology is outdated. If your service is not reliable. If updates are made and nobody has told you it’s happening and the update breaks things--- and it happens regularly--- that’s a sign that it might be time to pick a new system. Once the update has broken your existing implementation, you’ll have to spend time and money fixing it.  Even if you don’t pay for the fix directly, the dollar cost in lost productivity and functionality is real.  

If there’s a problem you can’t easily fix, how long does it take to fix? Does the vendor have a lot of turnover? How organized are they? Do they take a lot of time to answer your questions and fix your problems? Those things pile up, and they’re issues that the vendor may or may not be able to fix in the future. If it piles up far enough, it can be time to switch. 

Consider Your Members More

For the typical association, member experience often isn’t the number one factor in selecting an AMS. Because it’s not client-facing directly, it might not be a consideration. Most members are never going to see the guts of the AMS, or something the AMS has produced. But the fact remains that how well (or how poorly) it operates has a direct impact on how your members interact with your organization. If member retention is a priority for your association, you can’t afford to ignore AMS issues. 

At Cimatri, we help associations gauge member satisfaction and make a plan to improve it using our User Satisfaction Assessment. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help your members get more from your AMS.

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