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Choose Wisely: Will an AMS or an Online Community Better Achieve Your Current Goals?

Written by Liam O'Malley on September 26, 2017 at 8:30 AM

Will your association achieve its goals with online community software or an AMS?

An AMS is one of the largest and most expensive software purchases your association will make – and rightly so. Association Management Software (AMS) is the go-to software tool for membership management and is incredibly valuable.

But should an AMS always be the go-to software for all associations?

No. Such a one-size-fits-all concept doesn’t take into account the different situations associations can be in or their unique priorities. For associations who are prioritizing more efficient membership management, an AMS is generally the best option. But for those focusing on member experience, engagement, and growth, it isn’t the best option. An AMS investment will help your staff do their jobs better, but typically won’t do much to improve your member experience or to expand their benefits of membership. Instead, growth and experience-driven associations will get more benefits from an online community platform that focuses on engaging members and delivering value.

Here are three situations where associations will get more by purchasing an online community before pulling the trigger on an expensive AMS.

3 Types of Associations that Should Launch an Online Community Before an AMS

1. Associations in Startup Mode

Associations in startup mode typically have 1,000 members or less and are looking for ways to grow. In these early stages, startup associations can easily manage members using simple software like an Excel spreadsheet. They don’t need the advanced and sometimes complicated capabilities of a full AMS.

What is helpful, however, is software designed to help them achieve growth targets by ensuring members participate, receive value, and renew their membership. Online community software can help meet those goals by increasing engagement through creative and thoughtful activities that draw members in and promote relationship building.

In an online community, association members can network with peers and industry experts through discussion forums, blogs, private emails, and community-wide announcements. They also access member benefits through the community, including professional development courses with learning management system modules, mentoring programs, volunteer opportunities, and more. All these benefits help members get increased value from growing associations, boosting their likelihood to renew and refer new members, which ultimately helps associations create sustainable growth.

2. Specialized Associations and Associations with Finite Membership

Startup associations aren’t the only ones dealing with small memberships. Specialized associations with rigorous approval processes and associations with a finite number of possible members naturally have smaller memberships. Associations that are tied to government bodies, such as state treasurer associations, are good examples. Trade organizations may already have all the members available within their given trade.

Full AMS software can make managing such small memberships more complicated and can interfere with processes that are already working well for small organizations.

Small associations still need to connect with their members, however, which can be difficult if a small number of members are scattered across different states or countries. An online community helps by providing a single location with networking and benefits that members can access regardless of location. The best online community software will provide both a public-facing website for general information as well as a secure, private member community with forums, file libraries, and email. In the member-only community, people can engage with one another and your association, discussing industry issues privately, without the concerns of social media and other public forums.

3. Small-Staff Associations with Annual or Calendar-Based Memberships

A major advantage of an AMS is automated member renewals. That’s essential for large member bases where members can join an association at any time and renew on their one-year anniversary. But if associations add or renew members once or twice a year on a calendar basis, then the complex dues processing functionality of an AMS may be unnecessary. Alumni associations, for instance, add most of members after spring and fall graduations, just twice a year.

These associations won’t get as much value from an AMS, and will see greater return on budget spent by choosing tools that improve the membership experience. Discussions, email, mentoring programs, and learning management systems—all features of an online community—will help members get more value from your association and have a better experience.

Online community software also has many other tools, such as automation, event communities, and private communities for groups, that can be advantageous to an association. An alumni association, for example, can use online community software to create exclusive, private communities for each graduating class. It can then tailor each community to suit its individual class, connecting classmates and providing targeted content and benefits to each group. Such a personalized touch improves the overall member experience, leading to more engagement and, ultimately, renewals.

If Membership is Easy to Manage, Focus on Engagement and Experience

Association management systems are powerful, but they’re databases at heart. They provide tools for managing and automating membership, which may be more than associations with small or simple memberships need. Associations that are doing just fine managing their members in a spreadsheet should keep using a spreadsheet. Don’t complicate your processes unless there’s a good reason to do so.

Look for engaging, member-oriented software instead. An online community platform will be more cost effective than an AMS, take less time to implement, and will provide more tools for you to engage your members and grow your association. And your spreadsheet will work just fine to get members into the system.

When your organization has grown and become more complicated, then revisit the idea of purchasing an AMS. At that point, if you find a system that fits your organization, just let your online community provider know. They’ll be able to integrate with whatever system you choose.

Use this guide to evaluate, select, and plan a successful online community for your association.

Topics: Associations, Online Community Software, Member Experience

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