2015 May 25

We work with associations every day here at Industrial. For 15 years, the non-profit vertical has been a key focus, helping organizations to navigate the ever-changing world of digital.

As a company focused on designing solutions that are focused on the end user, a key area of interest for us is member engagement. More specifically, the experience of your members when they land on your website.

It’s all about your members

In speaking with executives from various national associations in recent months, there are 4 things we consistently hear:

  1. We need to broaden and diversify our revenue streams with our membership and beyond
  2. More than ever, we need to show value to our members to justify annual fees
  3. Our members are gold, we want them to feel like they are part of an exclusive club
  4. Our website is our most effective way to engage with our members

In other words, it’s all about the members, for which associations would not otherwise exist, and the association website is they key tool to reach them.

But tracking member information, providing tools to engage closely with them (and each other) isn’t an easy slam-dunk. The world of digital is complex and ever-changing: no other industry changes faster, and it takes concerted effort (and cost) to stay on top of it.

The promise of the Association Management System

Enter the Association Management System (typically shortened to “AMS” or “AMS Software”). Hundreds, if not thousands, of companies earn their living by selling AMS software to associations. Most of these companies are US-based (all the “big” ones), with a few providers here in Canada.

What does an AMS promise to do for you? Here’s the high level pitch:

  • Simplify and streamline management of all your data in one place
  • Provide online tools for your member to manage their membership
  • Give you all the tools you need to manage your association and members, typically including things like:
    • Event management
    • Continuing education credits / Certifications
    • Document Management
    • Committee Management
    • E-commerce
    • Awards
    • Surveys
    • Forums
    • Fundraising
  • Reporting on all of the above

… and just about anything else that you, as an association executive, could imagine. All of this beautifully presented online for your staff and your members.

Sounds AMAZING. But is it?

An absolute, 100%… NO.

The problem?

Well, there are 3 key problems:

  1. Bloat
  2. Invented-Here
  3. Integration

Bloat

Associations tend to have a lot in common, and while broadly they are very similar, individually they are very unique. As a result, AMS software solutions provide a very large number of features to try to cover the largest possible number of scenarios. A logical strategy, sure, but the result is bloated, over-complicated, over-engineered software applications. They become “generalists”: okay at a whole bunch of things, but not great at any one thing.

Invented-Here

The typical AMS model is “invented-here.” Meaning, that instead of using best-of-breed 3rd party tools to fulfill a task, a custom system is built to do it. Let’s take event management as an example. Every AMS solution provides some level of event management: create events, provide registration, track registrations, manage tickets, process transactions.

In order to provide these features, AMS software companies have to invest in engineers and designers to build the solution, integrate it into their core software and maintain it (or, try to).

For the AMS software provider, event management is one of a dozen or more core features they need to try to stay on top of. What is the likelihood that they are regularly innovating and improving on that event management user experience?

Instead of re-inventing the wheel, why not use proven, industry-standard tools that provide the necessary integration tools? In the case of event management, tools like EventBrite provide the best, most robust set of event management features. They live and breathe event management every day. And, they provide a full-featured developer framework to integrate your existing website with them.

Need CRM features? Why not use Salesforce under the hood? Email management? MailChimp is the best provider in the world.

The key point? Don’t pay your AMS provider to re-invent software solutions that others are already doing. You don’t have to invent it yourself.

Integration

This one is huge. All too often we see solutions that require your member to jump to other websites to do various tasks. Your AMS provides some type of online community, sign up forms, etc., but they don’t actually integrate into your existing website. Instead, you send your users jumping around through various hoops to do the tasks that are the key drivers for the success of your association.

If only the user could come to your website, login once, and have immediate access to all of the online tools you provide to them. Renew their membership, sign up for an event, watch a webinar, complete a survey… all without ever leaving the comfort of your website where you can control the brand, the message, and the experience.

Why should you care?

Revenue doesn’t come as easily as it once did. The government isn’t providing project or research-based funding the way it once did. Spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on off-the-shelf software solutions that promise the moon and deliver [something else] isn’t good use of your limited dollars.

Why do we care?

We’re trying to help our clients, and Canadian associations as a whole, provide their members (remember, they are gold) with the best possible experience. And to do this without hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in over-complicated, invented-here software solutions that: a) are far too bloated for what they really need; and b) don’t provide a seamless and integrated online experience for members.

What are we doing?

For now, here at Industrial we’re doing 3 things:

  1. Talking to associations, learning what your real needs are at the core, and what is most important for your members. We’re an active member of the Canadian Society of Association Executives, and love taking part in discussions.
  2. Researching the technology landscape, including existing AMS solution providers, and best of breed online applications that can help to meet the targeted needs of associations and can facilitate tight integration with existing websites.
  3. Designing a potential solution that could work as the gateway to uniting existing, best-of-breed online solutions with existing association websites.

What is the answer?

From where we sit today, we don’t have it yet. But we know the current AMS landscape is not providing the answer through invented-here, expensive, and bloated software applications.

We’re determined to find the answer, and we’re on the right path. We’ll get there quickly by engaging more and more closely with association executives.

Join the discussion

Interested in coming to the table to join the discussion? Get in touch – if nothing else we love talking to associations and learning more about the challenges you are facing.

Jeff Horne
Founder and CEO, Industrial
613-290-8221
jeff@industrialagency.ca