As an association management company, we spend a lot of time speaking to associations that are exploring different management options. During these discussions, some of the most common questions revolve around association management systems (AMS), which consist of databases, a website, payment systems, and sometimes much more. We are often asked:

  • What AMS does your association management company recommend?
  • Can your association management company work with our existing AMS?
  • Does your association management company develop and maintain websites?

We are always cautious answering these questions as it is important to understand the needs of the association and the expectations of its members before we can properly respond.

We have AMSs that we know and like, but we need to first assess what is right for each association.

Can we work with your existing AMS? Sure, but is it the right system for your association?

Would we be more efficient with something else?

These questions need to be addressed whether an association is working with an association management company or is a stand-alone organization.

The really big question these days is, should an association integrate an AMS into their existing website or should the AMS serve as the platform for the association’s website? A related question is, should an off-the-shelf AMS be used or should a custom system be built.

In almost every case, an off-the-shelf AMS should be used, regardless of the size and complexity of the association. Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but with enough research, an appropriate off-the-self solution can be found and in almost every case it will be less expensive than creating your own.

Where we get nervous is when an association tells us that a website designer has built a membership renewal system, and more, into their association’s website. This may seem cost effective at the time, but in most cases it ends up being mind-blowingly expensive.

While your website designer can create a great website, building an association management system is another thing entirely.

A true management system requires more than just ease of use and reliability. It must have sophisticated databases, encryption, privacy and legal compliance, secure payment systems, and ongoing development and support.

All this is in addition to keeping it up to date and ahead of ever-changing security concerns. Yes, you can piece-meal it together with plugins, but they won’t always work together the way an off-the-shelf system will.

Finally, there is support. If something goes wrong with an off-the-shelf system you’ll have a team of dedicated developers that know their product inside and out.

With all of this to consider why would you even try? Off-the-shelf systems start at less than $750 per year and robust systems with lots of bells and whistles can be had for well under $10,000 per year (Canadian dollars).

It really doesn’t matter if you integrate an AMS into an association’s website or build the association’s website on top of an AMS – either approach can work – it is all about the required functionality.

The thing to avoid however is falling into the trap of trying to convert your existing website into an AMS – I guarantee it will be far more expensive, and far less functional than using existing systems.