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What is an AMS? Finding the Right Tools for Your Association

By learning what an AMS is, your association can build a toolkit that streamlines your processes and grows your membership. Explore all you need to know here.

For associations, engaging members is an ongoing journey—one with many twists and turns. Managing a successful membership program depends on appealing to your members’ current preferences and adapting to their changing needs. Fortunately, investing in tools like an association management system (AMS) can streamline the many tasks and processes associated with keeping your members engaged.

Regardless of whether you’re trying to improve your membership website, simplify your accounting, or collect more non-dues revenue, this guide will help you build the right toolkit for the job. Here’s what we’ll cover:

Your association has specific needs and goals. That’s why you need a platform that’s purpose-built for all the goings-on at your organization. With the right solution at your disposal, you’ll be able to run a membership program that engages its members year after year.

Click through to view a free, quick tour of iMIS to see how the engagement management system offers innovative AMS platform features and more.

What is an AMS?

An association management system, or AMS, is a software solution that helps associations run their membership programs by streamlining processes such as collecting dues and communicating with members.

The benefits and drawbacks of an AMS, as described in the sections below.

The Benefits of an AMS

By implementing an AMS, your association can experience the following benefits:

  • Streamlined membership management. An AMS facilitates many tasks associated with membership management, reducing your staff’s overall workload and freeing up more time to focus on other important priorities within your association.
  • Personalized member experiences. Using your AMS platform, you can store details related to each member’s needs, preferences, and interests in comprehensive profiles. Then, using this information, you can create and promote experiences that best resonate with each individual.
  • Increased member retention. With AMS features that streamline onboarding and automate renewal reminders, your association can better retain its members for the long term.
  • Data-based decision-making. An AMS allows you to track metrics such as your member retention rate and membership growth, so you can determine how effective your engagement strategies are. The more you understand your members, the better you can tailor your approaches to meet their expectations.

By adopting an AMS, you can automate many routine and labor-intensive tasks at your association so you can concentrate more on other vital aspects of your purpose.

The Drawbacks of an AMS

While a traditional AMS can meet your most basic membership management requirements, modern associations need—and deserve—a more innovative solution tailor-made to support their goals.

Some of the main drawbacks of traditional AMS platforms include:

  • Incomplete data. Your members engage with your association in various ways, from registering for events to purchasing your online resources. Association software without built-in tools for accounting and website management can create data silos and make it difficult for you to access a 360-degree view of your members.
  • No native accounting tools. Depending on your membership model, maintaining accurate billing processes can be time-consuming and laborious for your staff. Traditional AMS platforms lack the native tools your association needs to support its complex billing structures, discounts, and payment processing.
  • No native content management system (CMS). Your association must create personalized, high-quality web experiences to keep members engaged online. Without CMS capabilities, it can be challenging to use your member data to tailor your content and user experience to your members’ expectations.
  • Limited non-dues revenue capabilities. Your association needs reliable sources of non-dues revenue to run a sustainable membership program. However, many AMS platforms don’t come with additional features that handle sponsorships, website advertising, job boards, and other opportunities.

Plus, many traditional association software solutions require extensive, complex customizations to be able to perform essential, everyday tasks for your staff. You’ll often need to rely on various third-party apps to assemble a platform that works specifically for your organization’s needs.

An engagement management system (EMS) like iMIS addresses these obstacles and limitations by incorporating all necessary functionality onto one platform, purpose-built for your membership management needs (more on that later).

What are the Different Types of Membership Management Platforms?

When it comes to finding membership management software for your association, there are three main types to consider:

  Engagement Management System (EMS) Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) Software Traditional Association Management Software (AMS)

Cloud-based membership management system

Cloud-based constituent management

Legacy association system maintained onsite or in a data center requiring significant IT involvement

Designed For:

Associations and nonprofits

Commercial sales forces (often relies on third-party apps to provide association functionality)

Associations that do not require remote staff access and have abundant IT resources

  • Member data storage
  • Member engagement and communication management
  • Website and portal creation
  • Accounting and financial management
  • Event planning
  • Constituent data and relationship management
  • Member data and relationship management
  • Additional functionality only through add-on applications
Integrates With:
  • Hundreds of specialty association and nonprofit apps
  • Thousands of business applications with no IT required
  • Thousands of generic applications that often require extensive customization for associations
  • Typically older, non-cloud-based software requiring extensive customizations

What are the Key Features You Need to Manage Your Membership Program?

Your association’s ideal platform should be an investment that you can count on for many years to come. Look for these top features and attributes to unlock complete visibility across all your member interactions:

Top features that associations need to look for in an AMS platform, as explained in more detail below.

  • Cloud-based technology. A cloud-based AMS database ensures that your staff can run the association and support members remotely. Plus, your teams can easily collaborate to work together on your programs and projects no matter where they’re located. However, many traditional association solutions are not cloud-based, meaning they must be maintained onsite or in a data center.
  • Association-specific design. A solution that’s specifically designed for associations will allow you to create detailed member personas and manage complex billing structures that align with your membership model. Many platforms that aren’t designed with associations in mind will require more expensive customizations to fulfill your needs.
  • Native accounting and finance. With a platform that has built-in accounting functionality, you can manage financial batches, invoices, and adjustments and offer secure, integrated payment processing without having to worry about setting up complicated integrations.
  • Single Source of Truth (SSoT). While traditional platforms are limited when it comes to providing a 360-degree view of your members, a solution like the iMIS EMS provides a SSoT for your staff to reference. You can store contact data at the individual or organizational level and track every interaction members have with your association. Plus, iMIS keeps all your data clean with deduping and merge capabilities.
  • Tight integrations with specialty apps. Regardless of the AMS you choose, there is a good chance you may need a specialty application. Your software should be able to offer two-way integrations with popular applications that don’t require coding or IT help. The iMIS EMS integrates with hundreds of apps built specifically for associations and their goals.
  • Website management. Your association should be able to create a strong digital presence by building and maintaining a high-quality membership website, member portals, and microsites. While many traditional AMS platforms don’t come with CMS functionality, the iMIS EMS allows you to create stunning web pages and personalized online experiences for your members.
  • Advertising and eCommerce. Your platform should be able to support advertising, sponsorships, and online stores to help your association strengthen its brand and earn more non-dues revenue. Look for a solution that goes beyond basic functionality to benefit from these opportunities.
  • Events and learning. Events and professional development opportunities are essential member benefits that associations can provide. While most AMS platforms do not have features that extend into this area, an EMS includes learning management, event management, job boards, and more.
  • Member communications and engagement. Strategically engaging with your members can boost retention. Your association needs a platform that enables highly targeted email marketing, allows you to build online member communities, and provides a year-round mobile app to help you stay in close touch with members.

While these are the top features that your association should expect in an AMS platform, note that many traditional solutions will fall short. That’s why we recommend the iMIS EMS for modern, forward-thinking associations. Your software should ultimately promote your long-term growth and sustainability. Prioritize solutions that offer robust queries, reporting, and dashboards so you can make informed improvements based on real-time data.

The Best Membership Management Software for Associations

With so many vendors and association software choices to sift through, it can be challenging to know where to start looking. When it comes down to it, an EMS like iMIS is the perfect choice for nearly all associations, encapsulating all the previously discussed features onto one platform.

An engagement management system (EMS) comprises AMS, CRM, and CMS features.

Specifically, an EMS:

  • Combines AMS, CMS, and CRM functionality on one platform. An EMS platform features event management, website management, dynamic dashboards, engagement scoring, learning management, certification, advertising, and application & review management. Plus, it has an open API for seamless integrations between your association software and top specialty applications.
  • Improves the member experience. An EMS captures and manages the entire member experience. It knows when a member pays their dues, registers for an event, finishes an education class, or opens an email. With this information, you can send the right messages to the right members based on their previous engagement. 
  • Delivers a SSoT. Members want to be able to engage with your association when and how it’s convenient for them. With an EMS, they can register for an event or purchase a subscription to a product on whatever device they choose, without having to log into multiple systems to get it done.
  • Fuses your database and website into one system. An EMS combines your database management and website in one platform, so you can provide a personalized experience across all member-facing systems and offer all of your important resources, products, and services.

The iMIS EMS is designed to illuminate, consolidate, educate and—above all—engage. With complete and unlimited access to all of your member engagement data, you can be confident that you have all the information you need to provide the value your members desire.

To better understand how an EMS can be a game-changing addition to your association, check out this brief video about the National Electrical and Communications Association (NECA)’s experience:


As the video illustrates, the iMIS EMS platform allowed NECA to create a high-quality web presence that made it easy for members to learn about the association’s services, access tailored content based on their preferences, and even purchase products directly from the website.

Click through to view a free, quick tour of iMIS to see how the engagement management system offers innovative AMS platform features and more.

How to Choose the Right AMS Database: 4 Steps

How do you decide on the best solution for your association? To set your decision-making up for success, take it one step at a time:

Steps to choosing the right AMS database, as explained in more detail below.

1. Create a Digital Transformation Plan

A digital transformation plan is essential for any association that wants to stay ahead of the curve and prepare for unexpected challenges. Digital transformation refers to integrating digital technology into every corner of your association, allowing you to:

  • Increase the value of your membership program. By evaluating your member base and the resources you provide, you can identify new, valuable ways to meet member needs.
  • Improve and streamline your operational processes. By reviewing processes such as onboarding, event planning, product sales, and member communications, you can brainstorm ways to automate or streamline them for added efficiency.
  • Adopt the right technology to support your goals. Your platform should provide a 360-degree view of your members and reduce your staff’s reliance on IT.
  • Strengthen your organizational culture and team cohesion. Digital transformation provides opportunities to consider changing mindsets and make the most of untapped skills within your teams.

To develop your digital transformation plan, you first need to create an innovation team that reflects every aspect of your association. These individuals should have varying skill sets, experience levels, backgrounds, and personalities. Then, start by conducting an assessment of where your association lies on the digital spectrum, where you want to go, and how the right software will help you get there.

Once you have a stronger understanding of your digital maturity, poll your team members on the most pressing issues your association faces and set specific goals to begin addressing those areas.

2. Outline Your Technology Needs

Every association has different technology needs. To guide your decision-making, refer to your association’s business strategy and determine which tools will best lend themselves to furthering your goals.

Keep your specific technology needs in mind as you build your tech stack. In general, your software should include these three major components:

  • Core platform. Your platform should support key areas such as member management, website management, and accounting.
  • Specific modules/apps. To facilitate other aspects of your membership program, your association technology should have features for multi-channel communication, event management, continuing education, non-dues revenue generation, and analytics.
  • Integration tools. Your member management software should be able to integrate with the latest solutions on the market to provide the specific support you need in key areas. To avoid expensive customizations and promote convenience, your platform should offer no-code integrations, have an open API, and support Single Sign On (SSO).

As you start putting together a list of top membership software solutions to consider, make sure that they have all the features and functionality to meet your most important needs.

3. Explore Online Reviews

Chances are, many associations similar to yours have already been through the process of researching and adopting an AMS. To learn about their real-world experiences and use their insights to support your technology search, check out independent review sites such as:

Additionally, you can reach out to the association software vendors you’re considering and ask them to provide references from similar associations and video testimonials, if possible. 

4. Preview Potential AMS Platforms

A Request for Proposal (RFP), Request for Quote (RFQ), or Request for Information (RFI) are established tools that many associations have used over the years to select new association software. But RFPs and demos alone are not the most effective methods available to you. 

A system preview lets you test association software in a real-world environment using your own information and processes to see how they will work before you make a commitment. Vendors of established solutions such as iMIS are happy to provide you with this option during your research. The process typically looks something like this:

  • Choose a purpose-built association software vendor.
  • Collaborate with the vendor to share your current situation and goals.
  • Create a detailed document containing key operational requirements
  • Preview the AMS using your own data and processes.

After the preview, you can decide whether the platform will properly address your challenges and help you meet your goals. Even if it can’t, you will still have detailed documentation you can use to create a highly targeted RFP that will save you time and help you find the solution that’s perfect for you.


Choose the right AMS for your association—without any guesswork.

In this guide, you'll learn how to:

  • Find the best association software for your organization using unbiased reviews
  • Spot the attributes to look for to meet your needs
  • Utilize six best practices for digital transformation
  • Build and optimize a tech stack that works for your organization

Best Practices for Boosting Results with an AMS

Once you’re equipped with a modern, cloud-based association solution that checks all of your boxes, use these best practices to make the most of your tools:

Identify How You’ll Measure Success

Every organization measures success somewhat differently. It could be any one or a combination of the following:

By tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) and implementing a mixture of short- and long-term strategies, you can tap into the full potential of your association software to meet your goals.

Focus on Increasing Member Value

Look at every service and resource you offer through the prism of: Does this really deliver member value? Use the following tips to find the answers for your association:

  • Stay on top of emerging needs. You can’t afford to remain static—listen to what’s happening in your industry/community and adapt your resources to best meet your members’ changing needs.
  • Check your member data. Cloud-based software, such as the iMIS EMS platform, will help you track every interaction your members have with your organization. By reviewing your member data, you can learn from their interests, habits, frustrations, and aspirations to pivot your approaches as needed.
  • Ask your members. According to the Membership Marketing Benchmark Report, associations that report seeing growth in renewals are significantly more likely to conduct regular member surveys. An easy way to survey members is to do a one- or two-question poll through your mobile app. Collect their input on areas such as your website, resources, events, and product offerings.

Armed with this information, you can make more informed decisions about the benefits, programs, and resources you offer in the coming years.

Earn More Non-dues Revenue with a Year-round Mobile App

While you may use a mobile app for annual conferences and other special events, you might not be leveraging the significant benefits of a year-round mobile app. With a platform that integrates with best-of-breed mobile applications, you can:

  • Take advantage of two-way communication. With an app, you’re not just talking to members, they can communicate back to you and with other members.
  • Provide your members with more control. With push notifications, members control the types of notifications they receive from you—so they only get the news and alerts they want.
  • Generate non-dues revenue streams. In addition to banner ads, splash screens on start-up, and other advertising, you can empower your industry partners to sponsor content.

A year-round mobile app is an excellent way to increase member engagement and an efficient way to share time-sensitive information with members.

Develop a Formal Member Engagement Plan

Enhancing and expanding member engagement is essential for any association. 61% of associations use an ongoing engagement email series and 52% send out volunteer requests to keep their members invested in their programs.

By creating a formal engagement plan—and using your association software platform to execute it—you can increase retention rates, event attendance, website traffic, and online community engagement.

Start by:

  • Improving your onboarding processes. Use your association software to document every step in the member journey, create mentorship programs, and regularly solicit feedback from members.
  • Using your AMS to build member personas. A persona is the entire personality of certain members, not just demographic details. Use your association software to build a reservoir of information on their reasons for joining, the issues they care about, and their professional goals. Then, use these insights to tailor your communications, resources, and member benefits.

Your platform should provide you with the means to measure and score engagement, so you can continually assess your progress and celebrate your successes.

Adopt a Continuous Improvement Mindset

Remember that your association’s digital transformation plan and membership program should be ever-shifting to ensure your long-term success and sustainability. To keep your priorities top of mind for everyone on your team, be sure to:

  • Share your digital transformation plan with your staff, board, and members.
  • Ask for frequent feedback from members, staff, volunteers, and other stakeholders using polls and surveys.
  • Regularly brainstorm new ways to use your association software to help meet your goal.

Every six months or so, gather with your team to reevaluate your plan. Taking the time to do so ensures that you’re always equipped to support your members and tackle any challenges that may come your way.

Download the free Membership Performance Benchmark Report by iMIS to learn how to use your AMS to its fullest potential and engage more members.

Maximizing the Impact of Your Association Membership Software

Finding the right association software can be a highly rewarding process that will leave your organization more prepared for long-term success than ever before. Just be sure to approach your research process with your goals in mind to pinpoint the ideal solution for your association. With an engagement management system like iMIS on your side, you can tap into a wealth of tools that are purpose-built for all of your association's needs.

If you’d like to learn more about leveraging technology to improve member acquisition, engagement, and retention, check out these additional resources:

 Click through to book a free demo of iMIS and explore how the engagement management system provides AMS functionality and much more.


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