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What baseline functionality should an AMS have?

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?

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  • Terry Dowdy

    Excellent topic Wes. But I guess it depends on your definition of “functionality” (not trying to channel Clinton here). From where I sit, you’re describing major modules, and in that vein I agree with you on your list. However, where would targetted communications fit in? Do we consider the ability to send astectically pleasing, personalized emails to segments of our constituency based on any specific or combination of variables a customization, or baseline functionality in all modules (or areas)? Is basic CRM functionality a part of membership management, even though in many cases it does not involve members or prospective members, but people and entities that we still need to do business with? Not critisizing, just wondering.

    Cheers,

    Terry

    p.s. I really need an inline spell checker.

  • Wes Trochlil

    Good point, Terry. I actually thought about “broadcast email” as baseline functionality, and now that I think about it more, I’d say it needs to be in there.

    And speaking of broadcast email, another baseline function should be the ability to query on essentially any field in the database.

    As much as I love CRM, I don’t think it’s baseline, because so few associations actually practice anything near CRM. Perhaps baseline should include the ability to capture notes and follow-up.

    wes

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