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There ARE “Affordable” AMS Systems

I often hear from association executives (particularly from very small associations, e.g., under five staff) that they can’t afford to buy an off-the-shelf association management system (AMS). Thus they will continue to use with a homegrown Access system or a bunch of separate Excel lists and Outlook distribution lists, and suffer the consequences of the weaknesses of such an approach.

But with the advent of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) product pricing, even smaller associations can afford to buy really robust AMS software.

Obviously, “affordability” is relative and in the eye of the beholder. But I would strongly argue that if your organization cannot afford several hundred dollars per month (for SaaS fees) for access to a database specifically designed to manage membership and related processes, then you have bigger issues than database management.

So which packages am I talking about? While this list is not exhaustive, I would include the following, in alpha order:

  • Association Management Online
  • Avectra
  • Computility
  • Internet4Associations
  • Memberclicks
  • YourMembership

I’m sure there are others.

Given the availability of these packages, even with their inherent limitations, I can’t understand why some associations choose to suffer with their current systems rather than upgrading to one of these.

Full disclosure: EDM is an independent third-party consulting firm. This means we have no financial relationship with any of the vendors mentioned in this blog. We provide unbiased opinions on what we see.

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12 Comments on "There ARE “Affordable” AMS Systems"

Ray van Hilst - 1 September 2009 Reply

Great list! The point that we often make with small associations is that can't afford NOT to have an AMS. So many are spending time rekeying data and entering forms that once they compute the time/$$ spent on that, it is less than the fees for an AMS and the ROI more than covers the costs (much less the functionality and other benefits).

Tony Summerville - 1 September 2009 Reply

An AMS (member database) should be treated as a mission-critical part of an association's operations. I agree that if an association isn't using one and operates using a variety of Microsoft Office products, they're probably wasting a lot of time (and money) each month. I'd like to throw DAXKO Connect into the mix. It's a SaaS AMS solution that's highly configurable and also very affordable. www.daxko.com/connect

Wes Trochlil - 1 September 2009 Reply

Agreed, that's exactly the point I'm trying to make. But "soft" costs (e.g., staff salaries) are easy to ignore or hide and it's apparently "easier" to suffer than to spend the money.

Chief Apricot - 1 September 2009 Reply

Let me also mention Wild Apricot (www.wildapricot.com). From what I know about this space (and what we have researched), I think we actually have the most affordable SaaS solution (flat monthly fee from $25/month) and we already have thousands of associations using it.

Chief Apricot - 1 September 2009 Reply

(A clickable link: http://associations.wildapricot.com/)

Jay Moonah from Wild Apricot - 2 September 2009 Reply

Ray and Wes, TOTALLY agree with your points about associations not being able to afford not to have an AMS solution, but Wes as I think you're saying, it's the pain of getting started that often stymies organizations from switching from whatever solution they are using, even if it is just paper or Excel sheets. Part of the challenge is convincing them that the pain of switching isn't as great as the pain of the status quo. I also thing there's still a lot of people with the attitude of 4-5 years ago that says if you want a good functional solution that does things like online registration or allows a secure member-only area, you MUST get an expensive custom solution. I'd LOVE to discuss ideas about how we can help convince association professionals that this is something they need be thinking about. I feel like, as AMS providers and consultants, there's a lot of opportunity in educating people and giving them the tools they need to pick the right solution for their organization.

Wes Trochlil - 2 September 2009 Reply

I have a theory about why associations have trouble with these types of issues (i.e., their willingness to accept long-term pain to avoid short-term pain) which I think I'll blog about in the near future.

Ron Wille - 2 September 2009 Reply

NimbleUser just launch a new AMS built on the Force.com platform and is call called NU Members (NU is pronounced like NEW). We get to leverage the powerful CRM aspects of Salesforce.com which make the application easy to use. We then took our 17 years of association management experience and built association specific features like subscriptions, meetings, orders, payment tracking and grouper for things chapters, region and committee management. We also have a module that allows organizations to document their use of NU Members right within the application for easy reference and training. We call this the Procedures module. We just lunched our application at the ASAE Annual conference to rave reviews and we were just recognized by Salesforce.com for having one of the Top 40 Applications built on the Force.com platform. Our application comes with things like great reporting, dashboards, mobile and communication templates. The ability to add fields and create workflows are also a part of the application. All of this for $ 65/user /month with an introductory price of $ 40 / user / month for anyone that buys it this year. We have built the application so that some organizations will be able to implement it themselves, while other could buy packages if they need some help. We are dedicated to small staff associations with this offering. We have web modules in beta right now. To learn more about us: www.nimbleuser.com To learn more about application: http://bit.ly/GRCCn

Jay Moonah from Wild Apricot - 2 September 2009 Reply

I _definitely_ look forward to reading that. :-) Thanks Wes.

David Sieg from YourMembership.com - 18 September 2009 Reply

Throw in the concept of convergence, and many small-to-mid associations quickly discover they are already spending enough $$ each month on disparate systems to cover the cost of a comprehensive SaaS AMS. Are you hosting a website? Using email marketing? Event registrations/management? Web calendaring? Wiki solutions? Shopping cart/e-storefront? etc. etc... all from different vendors that charge small monthly fees that can add up quickly! Also, association management and social media needs are converging. Associations need to address 1. gaining operational efficiencies their administrative efforts 2. delivering enhanced value to your members. That's 'association management software' (for you) and 'social media' solutions (for members). YourMembership.com happens to provide those solutions in one complete, affordable package! Love the topic and your blog. Thx. www.yourmembership.com/pricing/

Wes Trochlil - 21 September 2009 Reply

Thanks for the note, David. Good point about considering ALL costs already being incurred by the association.

Michael Hechter - 25 September 2009 Reply

In 2008, my association (staff of 8) realized the limitations of our Access database & did an exhaustive search based on staff-driven criterion for a new database. We are now using internet4associations (i4a). FYI: There's a user group for current i4a clients @: http://groups.google.com/group/cli4aents?hl=en?hl=en

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“Wes was able to come in and offer tangible, relevant advice that made us more productive immediately. I value his understanding of databases but more so, his understanding of how nonprofits work. There was no lost time educating him about how membership organizations are “different.” Wes recommended changes in processes as well as tips and tricks that were easy to implement made an immediate positive impact.”

Mary Pat Paris, Executive Director
International Registration Plan

“We came to Wes because we were very frustrated with our existing AMS and we wanted to improve our capabilities as soon as practicable. Wes very quickly helped us through a process of identifying our needs, identifying potential vendors, and selecting a new system that we’ll be able to move into very quickly. I especially appreciated Wes’s candor about our processes as well as the systems we were looking at. He was a great resource to have in a period of high anxiety for our organization. I would highly recommend Wes for any similar project.”

Jack Chiasson, CMP Executive Director
National Association of Life Brokerage Agencies

“Wes was able to come in and offer tangible, relevant advice that made us more productive immediately. I value his understanding of databases but more so, his understanding of how nonprofits work. There was no lost time educating him about how membership organizations are “different.” Wes recommended changes in processes as well as tips and tricks that were easy to implement made an immediate positive impact.”

Mary Pat Paris, Executive Director
International Registration Plan

Mary Pat Paris
International Registration Plan

“This is the second database implementation we’ve done since I have been at Western Arts Alliance (WAA). The first I did on my own. This time we engaged Wes Trochlil as our database planning consultant. Let me tell you, this process is a whole lot easier having Wes on your team! For a small association like WAA, it’s tempting for board and EDs to question the justification and expense of a database planning consultant. But it’s the small associations that need Effective Database Management the most. Wes strengthened our planning process, clarified our needs requirements, helped us steer around solutions that couldn’t meet our objectives, and saved us money in the long haul.”

Tim Wilson, Executive Director
Western Arts Alliance

Tim Wilson
Western Arts Alliance
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