I’m often asked this question (or a variant of it) by my clients and others. “Well shouldn’t every association management system have [fill in the blank] functionality?” The answer is, “Well, maybe.”

I’ve pondered this question for several years, actually, and I’ve finally decided there are only four basic functions any product that calls itself an association management system should have. (Drumroll, please…)

  1. Full accounts receivable functionality. This means the ability to accept payments (both check and credit card) and manage refunds, returns, cancellations, substitutions, overpayments, underpayments, price overrides, and all the rest, with a full audit trail. It isn’t enough just to have a record of a payment or a checkbox that reads “paid.” There has to be a full debit and credit log related to it.
  2. Membership management. This goes without saying. An association is made up of members. An AMS needs to be able to manage the members. The tricky part becomes how complicated a given association’s membership rules are and whether or not the AMS can be programmed to manage that. I’ve seen some pretty crazy membership structures in my time.
  3. Events management. As I look at my list of clients from the past eight years of consulting, there might be only one association on the list that does not hold regular meetings of some type where they would track attendance and registration fees. So clearly, any AMS should have events management capability. Again, the tricky part is how complex a meeting the AMS can handle.
  4. Product sales. This actually relates somewhat to point #1. While most associations hold events, far fewer actually sell tangible or intangible products (services). But product sales could include donations, exhibits, electronic downloads, subscriptions, books, and much, much more. The point here is that if the AMS has a solid a/r tool (item #1) and a way to manage product sales, then just about any type of sale can be managed through the AMS.

Of course, there are plenty of other tools that an AMS might have, and for every association, there are tools the AMS must have. But these are the four that I think an AMS must have in order to call itself an AMS. And for what it’s worth, I’ve seen more than a few products called association management systems that were missing one or more of these (most often they’re missing #1).

So what do you think? Did I miss something? What baseline functionality should every AMS product have?