One of the most significant changes in association management software over the past decade is the change in functionality focus from staff to customer. That is, prior to the internet (and even early on in the internet years), AMSes were designed to help staff process data more efficiently. As the internet grew and more and more customers were accessing it, AMS products had to change their focus to provide more functionality to address customer needs on the organization’s website (e.g., membership join and renewal, event registration, donations, etc.).

Because the focus changed from staff to customer, the workflow and user interface had to change. After all, staff can be trained to use the database, but you can’t expect to be able to “train” your customers on how to use the database. The interface has to be completely intuitive to allow the customer to easily do what he or she needs to do.

This creates a dynamic tension for developers: How do I make a database that’s simple enough for untrained customers to use, while at the same time sophisticated enough to allow staff to manage some very complex processes?

The result is that very often, an AMS product will actually provide better functionality for staff than the customer, or vice versa. So if given the choice between a product that leans to one side over the other, which should you choose? I would choose the product that serves the customer better than the staff, for three reasons:

  1. Making it easy to buy from you should always be your number one goal. After all, if no one’s buying, you won’t be in business very long.
  2. Pushing the “work” to the customer is always cheaper than having staff doing data entry.
  3. Staff can always work around any deficiencies that the system has. The customer won’t work around deficiencies; she’ll just leave.
So when considering a new AMS, be sure to think about how it will impact the customer, as much as you consider how it will impact your staff.