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What Does an Engagement Management System (EMS) Do?

Discover the top 10 benefits of an EMS for your association: personalized member journeys, increased revenue, data-driven decision-making, and more.

We’ve broken it all down for you. We'll cover  what an EMS is, how it differs from an AMS, and the top 10 things you can achieve with an EMS.

What is an Engagement Management System (EMS)?

An Engagement Management System is a cloud-based member management platform. Because an EMS is purposely designed for associations, there's no costly integration or expensive programming. Everything you need for a 360° view of your membership is built right into this association software.

By avoiding customizations, an EMS costs less to own and operate year-over-year. It also easily integrates with best-of-breed solutions without compromising the upgrade path.

An EMS is purpose-built with: 

  • Native association-specific features to manage your member data
  • Native CMS/website creation and management capability to engage your members
  • Native accounting to seamlessly manage your billing and finances


Engagement Management System (EMS) functionality includes CRM, accounting, data analytics, certifications, events, and more.



What’s the Difference between an EMS and AMS?

We get this question a lot. Here's a breakdown:

Engagement Management System (EMS)

An EMS is association software that combines real-time database management and web publishing into a single platform. It’s purpose-built for associations and features: 

  • Event management
  • Dynamic dashboards
  • Learning Management
  • Advertising and sponsorships
  • Application and review management
  • Certification management
  • Volunteer management, and more


Association Management System (AMS)

More traditional association software, such as Association Management Systems (AMS), were originally designed simply to manage contacts and perform transactions.

The AMS model left other functionality to be handled by third-party applications, which often created data silos because the functionality was not built in. These apps are also often not designed for member-centric organizations, which results in excessive customization to manage even the most basic association tasks.

#1 challenge for associations in 2024? Excessive system customization.

(Source: 2024 Membership Performance Benchmark Report by iMIS)



What Can You Do With an EMS?

We’ve compiled our Top 10 list of what you can achieve with an Engagement Management System:

1. Access a Single Source of Truth (SSoT) for your association 

With an EMS, you have one data source you can rely on — with no data silos. This SSoT brings all interactions with your members together in one database to provide a 360° view of: 

  • Joins 
  • Renewals 
  • Purchases 
  • Event registrations 
  • Publications and other purchases 
  • Professional education

The reliability, scalability, and flexibility that only an SSoT can deliver is essential for member-centric organizations.

Data silos to Single Source of TruthGo from data silos to a Single Source of Truth with an Engagement Management System 



2. Provide the ultimate member experience 

Learn how to create an unforgettable member experience with The Ultimate Guide to Association Software.

With an EMS, you can use data-driven strategies to optimize the entire member journey. You'll enhance joining, onboarding, mentoring, product sales, event attendance, renewal, and more.

You can then use what you’ve learned to enhance and personalize the member experience by:

  • Creating member personas that identify what makes your members tick, what they care most about, their career goals, and pet peeves. This allows you to shape their experiences with your organization 
  • Personalizing the web experience and communications: Deliver a highly personalized experience on your website, mobile app, events, and more by leveraging predictive content to guide members to the next step.
  • Increasing member convenience: With an EMS, you can offer Single Sign-On (SSO) so they only have to remember one login. Members can also pay their dues, buy a product, and register for a conference in one simple transaction.

A person using a laptop and mobile phone


3. Access real-time data for decision-making 

To meet your members’ ever-changing requirements, you need to use data to inform your decisions. In other words, your organization needs to be data-driven.

A purpose-built Engagement Management System provides a Single Source of Truth with a real-time, 360° view of your members. Use this robust business intelligence to:

  • Make decisions based on accurate, real-time data 
  • Spot emerging trends 
  • Identify the issues that matter most to your members  
  • Predict member behavior and identify at-risk members

People Discussing with a Tablet


4. Deliver on your association’s value proposition 

An Engagement Management System is designed to leverage all of your data to create a personalized member experience and showcase the value of membership.

When you have a complete view of your members’ total engagement, your staff can deepen relationships and better deliver on the elements of your value proposition that are most meaningful to them.

Icon - hand with star above it


5. Eliminate expensive customization  

Customizations can exponentially increase time, complexity, training, and maintenance costs of your system. With an EMS, just about everything you need comes standard because it was designed for associations right out of the box.

It offers purpose-built core platform functionality, exceptional departmental modules, and the flexibility/scalability of tight integrations with best-of-breed third-party applications.

And you won’t have to worry about upgrades and maintenance with an EMS. Upgrades are automatically performed to ensure your system remains up-to-date and operating at peak performance.

Happy professional on laptop


6. Handle your complex billing requirements 

An EMS can manage the complicated billing and pricing scenarios that many member-centric organizations now require — with unlimited billing cycles. The right EMS system can:

  • Accept payments with integrated payment processing while adhering to the highest security standards 
  • Include multiple products on one invoice, such as event registrations, products, and dues/membership fees 
  • Bill according to member class, chapter, or company lists and include section fees, subscriptions, and miscellaneous fees 
  • Apply special pricing formulas per product


EMS Success Story:

The reporting functionality and the accessibility of the database is giving us real-time actionable information to help maximize the offering that we're giving to our members. iMIS is really a great platform, really suited to all aspects of our organization."



7. Increase non-dues revenue

The #3 goal for associations in 2024? Increasing non-dues revenue.

(Source: 2024 Membership Performance Benchmark Report by iMIS)

When you have an Engagement Management System coupled with best-of-breed applications, you have a wealth of non-dues/non-membership fee revenue opportunities, including:

  • Advertising & Sponsorships: Handle every kind of media asset with a rate card and seamlessly control your sponsorship opportunities, exhibit floor booth sales, and inventory 
  • Learning Management: Expand your online learning options to increase revenue 
  • Product Sales: Boost sales with a system that allows members to process orders in one-click  
  • Application & Review Management: Track incoming revenue from entrants to ensure a profitable award cycle 
  • Mobile Engagement App: Create additional advertising and sponsorship revenue streams with a year-round branded membership app

Business presentation


8. Fully integrate with popular applications designed for associations 

Some solutions on the market talk about integrating to thousands of applications. But when you drill down, you learn that most of these won’t work for member-centric organizations.

While most association functionality is already built-in, the right EMS will also tightly integrate with best-of-breed applications designed for associations. This includes connectors and bridges with Single Sign-On (SSO).

With these strong integration options, you have unlimited options to meet your organization’s specific needs without IT support.

Puzzle pieces icon


9. Reduce your reliance on IT 

Chances are you need to go through IT or consultants whenever you need to update your database, website, or dashboards. Not with an EMS. An Engagement Management System puts the control back in your hands so your staff can:

  • Easily add fields
  • Create customized dashboards
  • Offer personalized content to members based on personas
  • Add database fields
  • Create a webpage
  • Launch a microsite
  • Build complex forms 

The right EMS will offer “No Code Integrations”, so you won’t need IT help to connect with the most popular applications on the market.


EMS Success Story:

For us, the best thing about iMIS is that it's a technology leader - they're always ahead of the curve. They anticipate our needs, sometimes before we even know them. Any company can promise you the moon and stars, but iMIS actually delivers."


10. Improve efficiency with automation 

Workflows can help you increase member engagement and staff productivity by automating communications and manual tasks. An EMS can help you:

  • Remind members about events or missing profile data
  • Prompt members when renewals are due
  • Display personalized messages and content on your website
  • Warn staff about upcoming event deadlines, pricing discounts, etc.
Guide for Associations

Maximize your digital transformation with tips from The Ultimate Guide to Association Software.



The Bottom Line

An Engagement Management System (EMS) offers a comprehensive suite of tools to meet the unique challenges of today's associations. You'll improve operations, engage members, and make better decisions with data-driven insights.

An EMS stands out because it was designed from the start for member-centric organizations. Without complex customizations, you'll manage member engagement, dashboards, data analysis, and more in a single platform. Embracing an EMS will help you position your association to thrive in 2024 and beyond.

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