Do You Need a CRM or Association Management Software (AMS)?

Do You Need a CRM or Association Management Software (AMS)?

Technology plays a pivotal role in managing associations efficiently. From membership management to event coordination and everything in between, the right software can streamline processes and enhance member engagement. However, association executives often face a dilemma: should they opt for a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system or invest in Association Management Software (AMS)?

Understanding the difference

Before diving into the decision-making process, it's crucial to understand the distinction between a CRM and an AMS. 

While AMS systems and CRMs have some comparable functionality, a CRM primarily focuses on managing relationships with members, donors, and stakeholders. 

On the other hand, AMS systems have a CRM baked into the product, but they also offer a comprehensive solution tailored specifically for association management, encompassing membership databases, event management, fundraising tools, and more.


Identifying Your Association's Needs

To determine the right solution, start by assessing your association's goals, objectives, and existing workflows. Identify pain points and areas for improvement, and pinpoint the key functionalities required for effective management. This initial evaluation will serve as a roadmap for selecting the most suitable software.

Some questions to consider include: 

  • What are the goals of our organization? How do we want our technology to help facilitate them? 
  • How does our current system support our goals? 
  • How do we want our members to interact with our system? 

Advantages and Disadvantages of CRM

CRMs offer several advantages, including a strong emphasis on relationship management and robust contact and communication management capabilities. Moreover, they often come with lower startup costs, making them appealing for smaller associations. However, CRMs may lack association-specific features, pose integration challenges with other management tools, and raise scalability concerns for growing associations.

If you need more than just a simple database to hold membership information or you want your members to be able to register for events, renew their membership, purchase products, or enroll in courses in one system – a CRM may not be the best solution. Often, turning your CRM into a robust system outside of traditional CRM capabilities requires a technical internal team member dedicated to connecting multiple systems to your AMS or building internal customizations to make this model work. 


Advantages and Disadvantages of AMS

AMS solutions are tailored specifically for association management, offering comprehensive features such as membership and event management. Backed by knowledge and use cases from other associations, AMS solutions provide a proven track record of success. Instead of having an internal IT team to build out the database or specific use cases, you have the whole AMS staff at your disposal. The AMS you choose should have multiple customers with similar use cases to yours that you can learn from and build on their knowledge to get what you need out of the system. 

As a holistic tool, an AMS could entail a slightly larger budget and a more comprehensive implementation process because you’re getting all of the functionality you need upfront instead of only what comes with a CRM.

Making the Decision

When deciding between a CRM and an AMS, it's essential to shop around and thoroughly evaluate the feature sets and pros and cons of each solution. Go back to the questions you asked yourself at the beginning and use those as a baseline for success – how the vendor of choice can help you accomplish your goals. Conduct a cost-benefit analysis and assess the potential for future scalability and growth. If you lack an in-house IT team, a traditional AMS may be the most suitable option, given its extensive customer base and support. Remember, the right software solution can enhance efficiency, streamline processes, and ultimately drive member satisfaction and organizational success.

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