Teri Carden is the chief instigator and founder of ReviewMyAMS, the first review site created just for association executives to review top association management software. Here, she offers advice for associations undergoing an AMS comparison. Read on:
How did you become interested in association management systems?
If you’re in the association space, you can’t help but have an interest in management systems. It’s the technology heartbeat of any association. My natural curiosity for technology coupled with my leadership team’s confidence in project management had me at the helm of selecting and implementing a plethora of systems, databases included. Selecting an AMS is one of the single most important decisions an association can make.
What do you love about the AMS solutions available today?
I love that the landscape of association management software is changing right in front of our eyes. With the influx of interest from private equity firms, client’s demands on customer care, and the godspeed of cloud-based system development, it’s changing from day-to-day. Enterprise systems used in the for-profit industry are truly challenging the largest competitors in the non-profit market and it’s making it pretty interesting to watch as “we” try to keep up.
What would you love to change about them?
It would be beautiful to see standards set for technology solutions that touch associations. Associations have work to do, missions to tackle, and lives to change. We’ve got to get to a place where the biggest discussion isn’t around “Does my AMS have an API that plays well with my other technologies?” If we can standardize our solutions then we can cheaply, easily, and safely (yes, I said safely; hello data breaches) implement technologies to do the business of the organization.
What considerations should organizations make before shopping for AMS solutions?
Seriously, think about hiring a vetted association industry consultant. They will ask you questions you never thought of. They have seen countless strategies that lead to successful (or unsuccessful) selections and implementations. They will be your cheerleader when you’re feeling defeated with the project.
What types of features do you think are universally useful for most organizations?
Gosh, there’s a list of about 30 or more modules to help achieve business processes, but keep your eye out for a reputable API. Also, don’t expect your association software to do everything well. Their core competency is doing database management. Why would you expect them to also be your Learning Management System, Event Management System, and email Campaign provider? Do you ask your mailman to deliver your email?
What are the most important things an organization can do when implementing a new AMS?
Remember that any implementation is going to be boring, timely, and expensive. I recommend that on the day you sign the contract with the AMS, have each stakeholder write down on a one-page document why this project is a good idea and why you selected XYZ AMS. When days get frustrating, that document will be a healthy reminder that you made the best decision you could at the time.
Also, I recommend telling the executive team and board that it’s going to cost two times as much and two times the amount of time estimated. When you come in under budget in less time then you look like a super hero. Just remember that finding the perfect association software is like finding the perfect husband or wife. They just don’t exist.
What do you think are the most common mistakes organizations make when adopting a new system?
The most effective transitions come with a house cleaning. What I mean by that is that data is scrubbed, new policies are put in place to ensure data stays scrubbed, procedures that have been sunsetted will have technologies alongside that need to be sunsetted as well. If a policy change makes sense for the greater good—most importantly, the member—then do it. As you can see, sometimes changing your AMS includes some culture change as well. If you don’t take the opportunity to make changes at the time the systems change then that’s a big mistake. The biggest mistake is not ensuring staff are trained properly and that training is continued year after year. Time and budget need to be allocated for staff to stay up to date with the associations’ largest asset—its data!
What AMS trends or innovations are you most excited about right now? Why?
We’re seeing a lot of mergers, acquisitions, and investment funding moving about in the space right now. I’m excited to see how associations continue to react or get callous to these movements and what it will mean for our tech ecostructure, budgets, and customer service expectations.
You mention how the influx of private equity firms are changing the AMS landscape. What effect do you think this will have?
I definitely see that there will be a short-term impact and a long-term impact on private equity firms’ presence in the space. Short-term, we’ll see that associations will continue to feel surprised and betrayed when they hear of their AMS merging or being acquired by another organization due to the private equity influence. Associations are still adverse to change. However, what I think will happen in the long-term is that associations will become immune to what is a standard business practice in “the real for-profit world.” We’ll see more and more of it happening, and I think what we’ll see are the positive outcomes of the millions of dollars being invested into the technologies—we’ll slowly start to realize that some of the minor inconveniences are outweighed.
Many thanks to Teri Carden for her time and insight. For more information on shopping for an AMS, check out the AMS Pricing Guide.