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The Ultimate Guide to Association Software

We'll break down what association software is, how it affects association performance, and the five steps to choose the right association software for you.

As part of your digital transformation strategy, you may be planning to evaluate new association software in the next 12-18 months. Many organizations are going through this now and while there may be many resources available, it can take a lifetime to go through them all to identify what’s really important in an association software choice. We heard you and have compiled a comprehensive guide with everything you need to know about association software — in one place. It’s easy-to-read and will help you answer some of your most compelling questions, like:


What is the Best Association Software?


How Can I Improve Performance with the Right Association Software?


How Do I Select the Right Association Software for Me?

This resource will help you with all aspects of your association software search. We start with the basics of what you need to know about what’s on the market, what the terminology means, how you can optimize your association software to work the way YOU do, and what to look for. Then, we delve into the details to give you the best overall direction to find, evaluate, and implement the perfect association software for your organization. Let’s dive in.


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1) What is Association Software?

The right association software can have a significant effect on your entire organization, making it more:

  • Responsive to member needs
  • Efficient
  • Capable of ensuring member retention and engagement
  • Streamlined

Most importantly, the right association software provides a Single Source of Truth your organization can rely on.

There are several ways you can go — but the most successful organizations choose systems that were purpose-built for associations rather than commercial solutions that have to be retrofitted for the association world.


Types of Association Software on the Market

When it comes to association software, you have three primary choices:

  Engagement Management System (EMS) CRM-Based Software Traditional Association Software

Cloud-based association software / member management system

Cloud-based contact management

Legacy association software systems maintained onsite by the organization or in a data center requiring significant IT involvement

What it Does:

AMS, CRM, and CMS in one association software system with member management, member engagement/website and accounting

Offers a software platform that integrates with third-party applications

Non-cloud-based association software offers member management often with no integration to the website and clunky integrations with other software that creates data silos


Manages all member data, member engagement and communications, website/portals with CMS and built-in accounting/finance in a single association software platform that supports your digital transformation plans

Manages customer data and relationships

Manages member data and relationships; this association software must use add-on applications to provide email, event management, website/CMS and other functionality, with no visibility across all member interactions

Designed for:

Associations and non-profits

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

Associations that do not require remote access for staff and have abundant IT resources to manage the association software system

Integrates with:

Top solutions on the market but most association software functionality is already built in; when specialty applications are required, it offers two-way integration with 150+ Best-of-Breed solutions and 1,000s of business applications with no IT required.

1,000s of applications, many of which are not specific to the needs of associations, and often require extensive customization 

Typically older, non-cloud-based software requiring extensive customizations that result in a difficult upgrade path for this type of association software. 

Featured Association Software Resource: 3 Critical Steps to Digitally Transform Your Association whitepaper


Benefits of Cloud-Based Association Software

Modern, cloud-based association software is essential to your association’s operational performance. Here are 8 ways the right association software can deliver for your organization:

1) Create A Single Source of Truth (SSoT)

Purpose-built system association software eliminates data silos, creates a cohesive 360° view of your members, and manages all aspects of engagement with your members, including:

  • Events
  • Product offerings
  • Committee involvement
  • Communication preferences

Featured Association Software Resource: It’s Not You, It’s Your Data Silos whitepaper

Data silos to Single Source of Truth


2) Personalize the Member Experience

Association software that’s designed for membership organizations allows you to create a smooth, flexible experience that your members love and helps you keep them engaged with:

  • Easy-to-use websites/portals
  • Convenient self-service options
  • Personalized communications

Check out this great article from ASAE about the member experience puzzle.


3) Increase Member Retention Rates

The latest association software, such as the iMIS Engagement Management System, can help you automate and execute your retention strategy to ensure:

  • The onboarding process is smooth and automated. 
  • Members are urged to engage based on personas that reflect their specific interests and goals.
  • Members receive timely renewal reminders, special offers.
  • Lapsed members are monitored and offered avenues for renewal that work for them.
  • Members are regularly polled for vital feedback. 

Featured Association Software Resource: 2022 Membership Performance Benchmark Survey Report whitepaper


4) Develop Sources of Non-Dues Revenue

Non-dues/non-membership fee revenue is always a welcome addition to any association budget. With the help of your association software, you can easily generate revenue from:

  • Sponsorships/sponsored content
  • Website, mobile app, and print advertising
  • Job Boards
  • Expo Floor Sales/Advertising

ASAE offers tips for maximizing your sponsorship options here.


5) Boost New Member Joins with the Right Association Software

Your association software can help you by: 

  • Making the join process simple and easy
  • Automating welcome messages, tips, and mentoring advice
  • Tracking new member personas to understand first-time member needs
  • Providing convenient recurring membership options and flexible ways to pay online 

The Canadian Association of Association Executives has tips on creating a mentorship program that enhances member value.


6) Ensure Accurate Billing

Association software that’s purpose-built with native accounting can: 

  • Support complex billing structures and extend discounts 
  • Easily manage daily financial batches, invoices, and adjustments 
  • Accept payments with integrated payment processing
  • Allow members to pay for membership dues, products, and events in one transaction


7) Improve Operational Performance with Your Association Software

A purpose-built association software system can help you improve your association’s performance by:

  • Managing all of your data in one place, providing a single source of truth (SSoT) and a 360° view of your association members with no data silos
  • Analyzing your data to learn as much as possible about your members’ interests, needs, and objectives
  • Launching your digital transformation initiatives
  • Supporting your overall business strategy and goals

Featured Association Software Resource: The Association Exec’s Guide to Improving Organizational Performance e-book


8) Streamline Processes

Using association software to automate routine and labor-intensive tasks can have a huge impact on your association by allowing you to:

  • Reduce the burden on staff 
  • Concentrate on member services 
  • Ensure high retention and member satisfaction rates 
  • Fulfill your organization’s mission


Where to Find Unbiased Reviews on Association Software

There are many client review sites that can help you find association software vendors, evaluate them, and hear real-world stories from your peers. Here are some of the best sites to visit for candid assessments of association software:

G2 Company Logo

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capterra logo

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More Effective Association Software Evaluation

Most associations use an RFP to choose new association software. But you likely used an RFP to find your last system and it has probably let you down — through data silos, expensive customizations, and a crushing reliance on IT to support it. Maybe it’s time to try a different approach for your next association software. 

Association Software System Previews 

A system preview allows you to test the association software in a real-world environment using your own information and processes to see how it will work for you before you invest. Your vendor should offer an association software preview to help you:

  • Identify critical needs for recruitment, engagement, retention, and growth 
  • Build consensus and document requirements 
  • Test the system with your data and processes


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2) What Are the Different Types of Association Software?

You have a number of choices available to you when it comes to association software. But you may need some help sorting through the marketing hype to determine what’s best for you. Here are some best-practice tips your association peers are using now to find their perfect association software:


Consider All Your Association Software Options

Engagement Management Systems (EMS)

An EMS is a cloud-based association software platform with no costly integration or expensive programming because it was purpose-built for associations. Everything you need for a 360° view of your membership and a Single Source of Truth is built right into this association software. By avoiding customizations, an EMS costs a lot less to own and operate year over year. These platforms can also easily and tightly integrate with Best-of-Breed solutions without compromising the upgrade path. This association software is designed to manage: 

  • Memberdata
  • Member engagement
  • Accounting/finance
  • Websites/Member Portals
  • Events, eCommerce, Communications, etc.


Generic CRM-based Software

CRM-based software platforms were originally developed for thesales forces of large companies.They have a lot of brand recognition, and may offer thousands of third-party app integrations. Licensing fees can be low, but these CRM-based solutions typically require extensive customization to meet even basic association needs and long-term costs can be exorbitant.

Many former CRM customers report that they switched to iMIS because their old association software: 

  • Needed expensive customization to do even simple association tasks 
  • Required additional customization after core CRM system updates 
  • Only provided workarounds instead of fixes when contacted for support
  • Stopped supporting some of their customizations


Traditional Association Software Systems

While most associations have made the move to cloud-based systems, traditional association software — legacy Association Management Systems (AMS) — are still part of the tech stack for some associations. While this is not something you will want to invest in now, you may still be dealing with the remnants of this older association software. The sooner you can migrate over to association software with a Single Source of Truth (SSoT) and fulfill your digital transformation goals, the better.

Featured Association Software Resource:3 Critical Steps to Digitally Transform Your Association whitepaper 


Look for Association Software with These 5 Attributes

We’ve compiled the top 5 requirements for association software that will support your digital transformation goals and better prepare your organization for the future:


1) Cloud-based Association Software Technology

This is a must-have. You need a cloud-based association software system to ensure you and your staff can continue to successfully run your organization and support your members remotely. Look for association software designed for the unique challenges that membership organizations face every day and add the leading-edge functionality to take your association software to the next level. With any new association software system, the primary goal is to help your association become a learning organization and achieve continuous performance improvement. 

Cloud computing illustration


2) Purpose-Built Association Software Design

You need association software that is specifically designed for associations and will empower you to: 

  • Access a complete 360° view of your members
  • Improve the member join and renewal processes
  • Create member personas to target and personalize your communications and offers
  • Manage complex billing and pricing structures

Be sure to read the UK’s MemberWise organization overview of the 6 reasons to make personalized phone calls to members a priority.


3) Native Accounting & Finance Built into the Association Software

It’s vital that you have accurate data and a Single Source of Truth about your members that you can rely on. Integration with association software systems can be painful, but with built-in accounting functionality, you can manage financial batches, invoices, and adjustments, and offer secure, integrated payment processing when you have the right association software. 


4) A Single Source of Truth (SSoT) Provided by the Association Software

A 360° view of every interaction with your members will help you personalize your communications and ensure steady member retention rates. With the right association software — like the iMIS Engagement Management System — you can manage contact data at the individual or organization level and easily keep your data clean with deduping and merge capabilities. The key is that your entire tech stack needs to be integrated with your core platform so you don’t create data silos that can cripple your productivity.

Featured Association Software Resource: It’s Not You, It’s Your Data Silos whitepaper


5) Tight Integration Between the Association Software and Specialty Apps

Regardless of the association software you choose, there is a good chance you may have a need for a specialty application. So, your association software needs to be able to integrate with the latest solutions on the market and offer: 

  • A seamless connection between your data and market-leading apps
  • Two-way, no-code integration with popular application exchanges to avoid customizations
  • Automated workflows with no coding or IT help


Build the Tech Stack That Works for You Using Your Preferred Association Software

A tech stack is all the association software and tools your organization uses to fulfill your mission and deliver member value. But your tech stack is likely unique to your association and there’s no one right configuration. If you’re building out a digital transformation strategy, here are the general areas you want to look at to ensure you’ve got a comprehensive association software system:


Core Association Software Platform

You’ll want a cloud-based association software system designed for membership organizations that can deliver maximum reliability, flexibility, scalability, and includes:

  • Member Management — CRM & Data Management
  • Website Management
  • Built-in Accounting/Finance 

Featured Association Software Resource: The Association Exec’s Guide to Improving Organizational Performance e-book


Analytics and Automation Through Your Association Software

Association software that offers powerful automation, as well as robust queries, reporting, and dashboards, is critical. This will help you and your staff make informed business decisions based on real-time data. You’ll need association software that features:

  • Member engagement scoring
  • Flexible reporting and dynamic dashboards
  • Advanced workflow automation 

cloud automation gif


Advertising and eCommerce Supported by Your Association Software

It’s essential that you continue to build your association’s brand and your association software should facilitate this. Advertising can be a great way to increase your non-dues revenue so make sure your system can support: 

  • Advertising and Sponsorships
  • Product and Resource Sales 
  • Online Store and Merchandising 


Events and Learning

Events and continuing professional education are important member benefits you can provide that encourage engagement and help galvanize retention rates. Your association software tech stack might include: 

  • Learning Management System (LMS)
  • Event Management (online and in-person)
  • Certification Management
  • Application & Review Management
  • Job Boards/Career Center Technology

Check out ASAE’s digital strategies to extend in-person meetings.



Communications & Engagement

Strategically engaging with your members in new ways — based on member personas and other association software system data — can help ensure member retention. Your association software should support: 

  • Highly targeted email marketing 
  • Online communities that promote professional networking
  • A year-round mobile app to help you stay in close touch

Featured Association Software Resource: 7 Mobile Tactics Every Association Professional Needs to Know 


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3) How Does Association Software Impact My Digital Transformation?

Your association software will either make or break your digital transformation — it’s that important. To successfully implement a digital strategy, you need modern association software that will streamline your processes and support you every step of the way. Here are 6 best-practice strategies you can use to choose association software that will help you pull off a flawless transformation:

Featured Association Software Resource: 3 Critical Steps to Digitally Transform Your Association whitepaper


1) Define What Transformation Means to Your Association

Digital transformation is the integration of digitaltechnology into all aspects of your organization. But, at the end of the day, the only definition that really matters is what it means to your own association.

Begin with an assessment: Many organizations are already highly digitized while others are just starting out. You need to start with an assessment of where you are on the digital spectrum, where you want to go, and how the right association software can help you get there. 


Prioritize what you want to accomplish: Don’t bite off more than you can chew. You don’t need an intense, complicated plan. The critical thing is to start somewhere and expand as needed. Poll your colleagues to determine: 

  • What’s our most pressing issue? Engagement? Retention? New acquisitions? 
  • Why are some members dropping off? Is it because we’re not delivering something they need? 
  • Are product sales down because our resources aren’t digitized? 
  • Are data silos keeping us from delivering real value to our members? 

Featured Association Software Resource: It’s Not You, It’s Your Data Silos whitepaper

Data Silos Whitepaper


Set realistic goals and measure progress: Assign a numeric value whenever possible to your goals so it’s easy to quantify how well you’re doing.


2) Focus on Increasing Member Value

Try to look at every service and resource you offer through the prism of: Does this really deliver member value? 

Keep 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. Your association software is critical in helping you remain nimble.


Check the Data: Cloud-based association software — such as an Engagement Management System (EMS) like iMIS — will help you engage your members in every interaction they have with your organization — so you can learn from their interests, habits, fears, and aspirations. But to do this, your association software must align your database with your website so you can spot emerging trends and pivot as necessary to ensure your long-term growth.


Ask Your Members: An easy way to survey members is to do a quick 1- or 2-question poll through your year-round mobile app. The right association software will help facilitate this and allow you to ask members about your: 

  • Website: Is the site user-friendly enough? 
  • Resources: Can they find everything they need from you online? 
  • Events: Do they want to see more in-person or hybrid events, or do they still feel more comfortable with online events? 
  • Products: Can they easily get the information they need?

Association member takes a survey on their mobile phone


3) Build a Great Team to Lead the Initiative 

To create an effective digital transformation plan, you need to pull together a group that will drive your efforts. Your innovation team needs to reflect every sector of your association and consist of independent thinkers with differing: 

  • Skill sets (Operations, Membership, Accounting, IT, etc.) 
  • Experience levels
  • Ages/background
  • Personalities (introverts and extroverts)

Read the Canadian Society of Association Executives (CSAE) article on why you should invest in young leaders.


4) Look at Your Organization from Top to Bottom

Each organization is different, but as a whole, you’ll want to take a look at 4 key areas and how your association software can aid in carrying out your optimal digital transformation:

Business model: Reassess exactly how your association operates and consider new ways to meet member needs. It’s an exciting time to think creatively about:

  • Who do you want to serve — has this changed? 
  • Which services, resources, and experiences can you best deliver?
  • Where should you offer these services (online, in-person, hybrid)?
  • How and for which issues do you want to advocate? 


Business processes: Every association can benefit from increased operational efficiency, and this is a great time to reevaluate each of your processes to determine if they can be automated, streamlined, modified, or eliminated. Consider: 

  • New Member Acquisitions: How well do you recruit and onboard members?
  • Events: Can members easily attend, browse and visit exhibits online?
  • Product Sales: Does your association software make it easy for members to download or order what they need quickly?
  • Continuing Education: Are you offering professional education / certification / training they can’t get elsewhere?
  • Communications: Does your association software platform help you regularly reach out and honor members’ communication preferences?
  • Retention: Do you make it easy for members to renew?


Technology: Cloud-based association software is essential for your organization to thrive in the current and future environment. Association software that can support and optimize your digital transformation will make the entire process so much easier and more effective. Consider these best practices:

  • Assess your current association software technology
  • Ensure your website and database are one so you have a 360° view of members
  • Empower your staff and reduce reliance on IT


Organizational Culture: It’s important to show respect for the history of your association while also embracing new opportunities. If your leadership agreed to explore a digital initiative and select new association software to support the effort, you’re halfway there. Here are a few initiatives to explore:

  • Changing Mindsets: Ask the difficult questions and try to look at everything with fresh eyes — including what you really need from your association software.
  • Rethinking Skill Sets: Instead of looking at established roles/positions, think about your staff members’ individual strengths and then consider how you could best put those talents to good use.
  • Experimenting: Try to be open to unique approaches and be willing to test new theories and explore how your association software will help your association stretch its limits.

On-demand webinar resource: Raising the Bar: How is Your Digital Transformation Improving Member Experiences? A Panel Discussion.

Four speakers during "Raising the Bar: How is your Digital Transformation Improving Member Experiences? A Panel Discussion"


5) Measure Your Association’s Progress 

Your digital transformation plan should have stated goals that are meaningful to your organization and can be measured by your association software.

Celebrate the small victories: Your digital transformation plan doesn’t need to be elaborate. Whether it’s digitizing your publications, improving the onboarding process, replacing outdated association software, or personalizing your communications — look for the small wins you can feel good about along the way. 


Look at both qualitative & quantitative results: While you need quantitative goals that can be easily measured, you should also look for signs of qualitative improvement. The right association software should help you assess your progress and determine whether members:

  • Appreciate what you’re doing and leave kudos in your surveys 
  • Say thanks in your online forum or mainly share complaints 
  • Refer colleagues for membership 
  • Regularly attend events 


Featured Association Software Resource: 2022 Membership Performance Benchmark Survey Report whitepaper


6) Never Stop Evolving

Above all else, remember that your transformation plan is a living, breathing document that should always be top-of-mind for everyone on your team. You’ll never be done and if you embrace it, the strategy will become a fun and motivating part of your association’s everyday life. And your association software should help you along the way. Be sure to:

  • Share your plan with staff, your Board, and membership — this is the time for transparency.
  • Ask for regular feedback from members, staff, volunteers, committee chairpersons, etc., etc. using polls and surveys.
  • Check to see how your association software can be used in new ways to help meet your goals.
  • Revaluate your plan every 6 months to ensure you’re ready for the next challenge that might come your way. 

Featured Association Software Resource: The Association Exec’s Guide to Improving Organizational Performance e-book

The Association Exec's Guide to Improving Organizational Performance


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4) What is the Best Association Software?

With so many vendors and so many association software choices to sift through, it can seem overwhelming sometimes. When it comes down to it, an Engagement Management System, such as iMIS, is the perfect choice for nearly all associations.

Featured Association Software Resource:3 Critical Steps to Digitally Transform Your Association whitepaper


Engagement Management Systems are the Smart Decision for Most Associations

An Engagement Management System is cloud-based association software that is purpose-built with essential functionality, including: 

  • Native AMS/association-specific features 
  • Native accounting/financial management 
  • Native CMS/Website creation and management capability 

In particular, an EMS:

Combines AMS, CMS, & CRM Functionality in One Association Software Platform

An EMS platform fuses database management and web publishing into a single association software platform that features event management, dynamic dashboards, engagement scoring, learning management, certification, advertising, and application & review management — not to mention an open API for seamless integrations between your association software and Best-of-Breed applications.

Hub icon


Improves the Member Experience

Traditional association software, such as Association Management Systems, typically just managed contacts and performed transactions over the years. This association software model left other functionality — including learning management, job boards, member-centric email communications, and website integration — to be handled by third-party applications, thereby creating data silos.

Instead, an EMS provides a foundation for guiding the member experience as well as recording, in a single place, the totality of the member engagement. The net result is that the EMS knows when the member pays their dues, registers for an event, finishes an education class, votes in an association election, or even opens an email. All of this is recorded in a central hub that allows you to use your association software to create content and communications targeting the right message to the right person based on previous engagement.

The EMS can deliver different communications to members based on whether they opened a conference promotion, ignored an email, or have already registered for an event. By tracking engagement scores through your association software, you can easily identify at-risk members early — so you have time to draw them back into the fold.

Featured Association Software Resource: It’s Not You, It’s Your Data Silos whitepaper


Delivers A Single Source of Truth

Members want control of their own data; they want to be able to engage when and how it’s convenient for them instead of calling into your association during business hours. They want to register for an event or purchase a subscription to a product while on the go — using a cell phone, laptop, or tablet. They don’t want to have to log into multiple systems to accomplish simple tasks. The right association software makes this all possible.

With online engagement now more critical than ever, your business system, events continuing education, and your website all need to be managed from one association software system so you have a Single Source of Truth. This is the central advantage a modern Engagement Management System has over other association software systems.


Fuses the Database and Website Into One Association Software System

An Engagement Management System like iMIS is designed to manage every aspect of your engagement with your members. It fuses your database management and website into a single association software system so that you can provide a personalized experience across all member-facing systems and offer the information, products and services that are most valuable — whether it’s website resources, current news, webinars, training and certifications, or onsite events.

Because all your data and websites are in one association software platform, you can tailor the member experience to meet expectations and deliver value to your members. An EMS provides engagement dashboards and other reporting so that you can monitor the performance of your organization and continually improve processes and improve member satisfaction.


On-Demand Webinar Resource: From The 3 Rs of Membership Series, Retain: Mastering Engagement Scoring & Personas


Provides Reliable, Real-Time Data

An Engagement Management System is designed to leverage all data, in real-time, to create a personalized member experience and deliver on your specific value proposition. Using modern association software translates to higher retention rates year after year. 

Knowing that you can rely on your data — that it’s complete, accurate, and up-to-date — is paramount. Only an EMS can support this level of confidence by providing the intel to improve processes, experiences, outcomes, and rewards to ultimately achieve continuous performance improvement — something that traditional association software isn’t prepared to do.

Featured Association Software Resource: The Association Exec’s Guide to Improving Organizational Performance e-book


Drives Member Value

An EMS is designed to illuminate, consolidate, educate, and — above all — engage. Unlike a static AMS, modern association software, like an EMS, creates a Single Source of Truth you can rely on and knocks down data silos that keep you from engaging seamlessly with your members. A dynamic website that serves up the resources your members need, ignites support for your initiatives, provides vital continuing education, and cultivates meaningful networking opportunities is paramount. With an association software system that integrates with the public-facing website and member portals, your organization can easily provide the value your member crave and ensure strong member retention.


Michelle Lelempsis of Causeis on how to show prospects the value of membership


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5) How Can I Improve Performance with the Right Association Software?

Before you can answer that question, you must first address a more basic issue:

How do I define association performance? 

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

  • Number of members
  • New member acquisitions
  • Member retention and engagement
  • Product sales
  • Non-dues revenue generation
  • Annual budget growth

There are many ways you can improve your overall association performance — these are typically operational in nature and are more long-term. Others can be implemented quickly and can start making an impact almost immediately. Below, we’ve outlined 8 strategies — 4 long-term and 4 short-term — that we’ve observed in the most successful associations worldwide and how the right association software can help or hinder these initiatives:

On-Demand Webinar Resource: From The 3 Rs of Membership Series, Recruit: Ensuring Your Member Onboarding Journey Gets Results


Longer-Term Strategies

1) Create a Digital Transformation Plan

Digitaltransformationis theintegration ofdigitaltechnology into every corner of your association. It’s designed to:

  • Reevaluate your business processes and corporate culture
  • Improve and streamline howyour association operates
  • Increase the value you deliver to members 
  • Challenge conventional wisdom 


Here are a few tips to get started on your journey:

  • Build an Innovation Team with a diverse group of individuals from around your organization 
  • Pinpoint:
    • Which processes just don’t work for you
    • Legacy association software that’s holding you back
    • Data silos that prevent a 360° view of your members
  • Look at everything you do with fresh eyes to see how it can be improved

Featured Association Software Resource: It’s Not You, It’s Your Data Silos whitepaper


2) Find Association Software That Supports Your Goals

One of the most important aspects of an effective digital transformation strategy is assessing whether your current association software can support your digital objectives. If your existing association software isn’t capable, finding new association software— like an Engagement Management System — will be one of your first priorities. There are many considerations when starting a new association software search but, in particular, you’ll want to look for systems that are:

  • Cloud-based so it can be accessed by staff, members, and volunteers from anywhere on any device
  • Designed just for membership organizations with the association-specific functionality you need built right in
  • Simple to use so staff can access the information they need without relying on IT
  • Capable of managing all of your data in one place — providing a single source of truth and a 360° view of your association members with no data silos
  • Integrated with your website so you can provide a personalized web experience for your members.

Featured Association Software Resource: 3 Critical Steps to Digitally Transform Your Association whitepaper


3) Listen to what your data is trying to tell you

Your association software should help you become a data-driven organization by allowing you to monitor and track all member interactions — from the initial join, to onboarding activities, to product sales, to event attendance, and beyond. Armed with this information, you can make more informed business decisions about the benefits, programs, and resources you offer in the coming years. In particular, you’ll want to look at what your association software is saying about:

  • Issues your members most care about 
  • What motivates your members
  • How members want to hear from you
  • Your members’ plans for the future and how you can help them 


4) Make Technology Decisions Based on Your Business Strategy

In our work with thousands of association clients around the world, we’ve identified 4 key best practices that are consistently used by the most successful organizations:

  • The business strategy drives association software and other technology decision-making — not the other way around
  • Data is accurate, up-to-to date, and easily accessible
  • The organization is constantly learning from member and staff interactions 
  • The website is part of the association software and vice versa

Featured Association Software Resource: The Association Exec’s Guide to Improving Organizational Performance e-book

Association staff discussion data points


Shorter-Term Strategies to Try Right Now 

5) Increase non-dues revenue with association software that supports year-round mobile apps

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. It’s a great way to increase member engagement and it’s a quick and efficient way to get time-sensitive information out to your members. With association software 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 to other members.
  • Allow Your Members 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.

association mobile app


6) Improve Your Onboarding Processes with Your Association Software

It’s vital to have a well-oiled onboarding machine to ensure members get engaged right away. But it requires commitment and patience — your association software should be designed to make the process easier and simpler for members and your staff. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Document and analyze every step in the new-member journey
  • Communicate often
  • Regularly ask for members’ feedback
  • Offer the guidance of a mentor 

Featured Association Software Resource: 2022 Membership Performance Benchmark Survey Report whitepaper


7) Use Association Software to Build Member Personas

A persona is the entire personality of certain members, not just demographic details. You want to dig deeper to understand not only what your members do, but why they do it. With the right association software, you can build a reservoir of information you can use to tailor your communications, resources, and member benefits. In particular, you’ll want to delve into:

  • Why did they join?
  • What’s keeping them up at night?
  • Which issues do they care about?
  • What are their professional goals?

Done right, member personas can have a significant impact on your association’s ability to engage and retain members — and the perfect association software can help you build them.


8) Develop a Formal Engagement Plan

Increasing, enhancing, and expanding member engagement is essential for any association. But many organizations don’t stop to put together a plan with quantifiable goals that are consistently measured. By creating a formal engagement plan — and using your association software platform to execute it — you can help increase:

  • Retention rates
  • Event attendance (annual conferences and virtual events)
  • Website traffic
  • Online community engagement 

The plan doesn’t need to be complicated — start simple and gradually add more depth. Here are a few ideas to head in the right direction:

  • Ensure you have association software that can measure and score engagement 
  • Determine the metrics you’ll track with your association software
  • Set attainable goals
  • Broadcast the goals and your progress towards them
  • Celebrate your achievements


The effect of member engagement plans on renewals and event attendance. Source: 2022 Membership Performance Benchmark Report


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6) How Do I Select the Perfect Association Software for Me?

Selecting the optimal association software for your organization doesn’t have to be painful. It can actually be an exciting time — when you know you’re going to find the exact right solution to support your organization’s short- and long-term goals! Here are proven best practices to help you streamline the process:


Create Your Digital Transformation Strategy First

A Digital Transformation Plan is essential for any association that wants to stay ahead of the curve and prepare for unexpected challenges; your association software will make a huge impact on your digital planning. Hopefully, you’ve already started this process, but don’t worry if you’ve put it off. You can start simply — today — using some of the advice we’ve gleaned from other association executives on how to get the most from the digital transformation experience.

(If you need help creating your strategic plan before embarking on your digital journey, check out the Australasian Society of Association Executive’s steps for easily getting started.)

The most successful plans urge you to stretch beyond current boundaries, try new things, and challenge the status quo. In particular, your plan should address 4 key areas:

  • Business processes: What could you be doing better? 
  • Business model: What’s the most effective way to increase member value? 
  • Technology: How can the latest association software streamline and improve your efforts? 
  • Organizational culture: How can you leverage your team’s talents in new/better ways? 

The technology component can be the most critical element of an effective digital strategy — you’ll need powerful cloud-based association software that provides a Single Source of Truth to support your goals.

Featured Association Software Resource: 3 Critical Steps to Digitally Transform Your Association whitepaper 


Evaluate Your Options

Cloud-based association software is crucial so that your members and staff can access data and resources from anywhere. These days, you have two primary cloud options: 

Engagement Management Systems (EMS)

Engagement Management Systems — such as iMIS — are cloud-based association software platforms with no costly integration or expensive programmingheadaches because they’re purpose-built for associations. This association software is designed to manage memberdata, engagement, financials, events, and yourwebsites in one solution. By avoiding customizations, an EMS costs a lot less to own and operate year over year.


Generic CRM-Based Platforms

The major CRM platforms were initially developed for thesales forces of large commercial enterprises — not associations. Their licensing fees can be low, but these CRM-based solutions typically require extensive customization to meet even basic association needs and usually come with lots of hidden fees — so they can lock you into years of expensive system costs.


Determine the Tech Stack That’s Right for Your Association

Your tech stack is all the software and tools your association uses to fulfill your mission and deliver member value. Each organization’s needs will be different, but most membership organizations should include 3 major components:

  1. Core platform
  2. Specific modules/apps
  3. Integration tools 

Let’s take a closer look at these association software elements:


1) Your Core Platform Requirements 

You need to choose an association software platform that’s designed for the unique complexities that membership organizations face every day. Your core platform should fulfill 4 primary functions:

Member Management

You need to select association software that can easily:

  • Manage all your contact data 
  • Ensure data integrity 
  • Reduce reliance on IT by empowering staff 
  • Seamlessly import and export your data


Member Engagement/Website Management

Your association software platform must be able to manage your entire public-facing web presence, member portals, event sites, and special-purpose microsites. It should be capable of helping you:

  • Create your own web pages using a Content Management System (CMS) 
  • Personalize the member experience with content and resources tied to their specific interests 
  • Empower your chapters, affiliates, and other groups to manage their own websites

NAWIC Responsive Website - Laptop and Mobile 2The National Association of Women in Construction's (NAWIC) website



Native Accounting/Finance

It’s critical that your association software provides a Single Source of Truth and a full 360° view of your members — and a huge part of this is built-in integration with your accounting system. Look for association software that can: 

  • Manage your financial batches, invoices, and adjustments
  • Maintain separate bank accounts for different types of payments
  • Deliver secure, integrated payment processing 

Featured Association Software Resource: It’s Not You, It’s Your Data Silos whitepaper


2) Specific Modules and Apps

As an association, you have unique needs that your association software should address — either with native functionality or a tight, seamless integration with Best-of-Breed applications. Here’s what to look for in your next association software system: 


Email: Your association software should help you easily design dynamic, persuasive, and personalized messages that can be automated and tracked. 

Online Communities: The right association software will help you create an engaging online presence with features that welcome members and motivate them to keep coming back.

Mobile: Going beyond a simple event app to a year-round mobile app is the smart way to send targeted, time-sensitive push notifications and receive real-time feedback from members.

Text Messaging: Email is great but members increasingly prefer to get quick updates via text. Your association software should support integration with text messaging that lets you automate, schedule, and personalize your messages in accordance with regulatory guidelines. 


Event Management 

Your events are a huge part of the value you bring to members. Your association software must have the flexibility to flawlessly manage all logistics, registrations, and communications, and support different pricing structures or discounts. 


Learning and Certification

Continuing education and certifications are vital to your members’ professional development. Your association software should support:

Application & Review Management: Make sure your association software enables the management of submissions, nominations, selections, and notification processes, builds sophisticated forms, and supports complex review processes. 

Learning Management System (LMS): The right association software should help you deliver instructor-led or video learning, support your assessment and testing methods, and track learning progress.

Certification Management: You can automate your entire credentialing, licensing, and certification processes as well as define multiple certification programs, establish requirements and allow certificants to monitor their own progress with modern association software.


Non-Dues Revenue Generation

The bright spot for any association: non-dues revenue! The best association software, such as the iMIS Engagement Management System, can help you offer promotions and discounts across all payment areas, provide unified carts that allow members to register for events, pay dues, and buy products in one transaction.

Advertising: Modern association software can track and manage everything from the sale to the insertion. The leading modules/applications will help you process orders, automate placements and billing, and analyze your sales performance. 

Career Center/Job Boards: These can be an important member benefit but they can also generate additional revenue for your association through subscriptions, bundled job postings, upgraded postings, and branding opportunities for sponsors. Make sure your association software helps you automate career center management. 


Analytics & Productivity

Engagement Scoring: Baseline your individual and corporate member engagement levels, monitor them, and report on progress towards the goals you set with the latest association software. 

Dashboards & Reporting: Your association software should offer a comprehensive library of standard reports and dashboards designed for associations right out of the box — but it should also be flexible enough to be tailored to your association’s specific needs.

Workflow Automation: Look for association software that can automate tasks, schedule member communications, display personalized messages for members, and alert staff to important updates or tasks when viewing a member record.

Featured Association Software Resource: The Association Exec’s Guide to Improving Organizational Performance e-book

Association staff members looking at statistics on a dashboard


3) Integration Tools

Seamless integration is also critical for optimal association software. You’ll need to ensure your choice for association software can integrate with the latest solutions on the market to provide the specific support you need in key areas. Look for association software that: 

  • Integrates with Best-of-Breed solutions on the market
  • Builds no-code,two-way integrations to avoid expensive customization 
  • Offers an open API to allow you to build your own integrations 
  • Supports Single Sign On (SSO) with SAML, OAuth and other protocols for added member and staff convenience 


Preview the Association Software

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 these methods are outdated and rarely produce the association software that’s ideal for your organization. In fact, they tend to guide you through a long, tedious process that results in … pretty much the exact same system you have already!

There’s a better way to handle this: a system preview. 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. The entire cost of one of these previews can be less than what you might pay a contractor to develop an RFP for you — and can be a much better predictor of the right association software for your particular organization.

Woman driving convertible car

The association software preview should be tailored to your organization’s own needs but your process should include these key steps: 

  1. Find the right vendor: Look for association software that is purpose-built forassociations — it doesn’t make sense to begin with a system that will need to be heavily customized to meet your needs.
  2. Gather Information (Discovery): The association software vendor should collaborate with your executive team to assess your current situation and address recruitment, engagement, retention, and membership growth.
  3. Build Consensus and Preview: You’ll want to identify strategic targets, build consensus on key operational requirements, preview the association software using your own data and processes, and prepare a detailed document with all of your requirements.
  4. Make an Informed Decision: After completing the preview, you can decide whether the association software will address your challenges and help you meet your goals. 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 association software that’s perfect for you. 


Look at Client Reviews for Important Clues

As unique as your association may be, there are likely many other organizations with very similar needs. They’ve already been down the same road and many are generous enough to share their experiences with association software through independent client review sites. You can leverage this real-world feedback to help make a better association software decision. Ask the association software vendors you’re considering to provide: 

  • References from Associations Like Yours: They should be able to provide multiple testimonials about their association software from comparable associations in terms of revenue, complexity, staff size, or numberof members. 
  • Video Testimonials: A written summary is nice but it’s much more powerful to watch association executives describe their experience with the association software.
  • Independent Client Review Sites: These sites can provide the unfiltered truth that will help you eliminate inadequate association software or the possibly financially unstable companies behind them.

Check out these independent sites for unbiased client reviews:

G2 Company Logo

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capterra logo

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Featured Association Software Resource:2022 Membership Performance Benchmark Survey Report whitepaper


Take Aways

Finding the right association software can be an exhilarating process that will ensure your association is ready for the challenges ahead. As you go about your selection process, keep these best practices in mind:

  1. Understand the pros and cons of the different types of association software
  2. Choose an Engagement Management System — like iMISthat’s purpose-built for your association
  3. Ensure your association software supports your digital transformation goals
  4. Build a tailored tech stack that works for your association
  5. Try a system preview before deciding on your association software
  6. Read what your peers report on independent client review sites about the association software you’re evaluating
  7. Never stop evolving — remain nimble and open to new ideas/methods

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