Association Management Software powers the day-to-day operations for your staff and the online experience for your members. The importance of picking the right AMS to manage your association can’t be overstated. Making sure that you have enough time to prepare for the search, choose the right software, and implement it will make the process run smoothly for everyone involved. You’re probably asking yourself, how long does the AMS selection process take and how should I start? We’re here to help.
Preparing For The Search: One to Two Months
So, you’ve decided to start the process of looking for new association management software. Where do you begin? Before you even start reaching out to potential AMS providers, there’s a lot of work to be done to establish a reasonable timeline, create a list of requirements, and identify key players on your team.
- Factor in when your current AMS contract ends and plan around that date. A safe bet is to aim for a few months of overlap between the go-live date of your new AMS and the contract expiration date of your old one.
- Does your association have a big event annually? Consider all events in your schedule. Your staff will be busy creating value for members and might not have as much time to dedicate to the AMS search or implementation.
- Does your membership run on a calendar basis? Similarly, this time is busy, so plan for blackout dates. Also, for continuity’s sake, you’ll want to run renewals in a single system.
- Which members of your team will be involved in choosing the new AMS? Consider who will use the software the most or who might have the most insight into what they need it to do. Purchasing an AMS is a big decision and it’s crucial to have the right people offering their input.
- What do you want the software to do? First, consider the needs of your members. What functionality would improve their experience? Then, examine what features and functionality you and the rest of the staff need to be effective and serve your organization well. After you have all of the critical requirements, make a list of nice-to-have features. Your next AMS should be an improvement for everyone.
- Evaluate the space you have in your budget for an AMS and how much you are willing to spend. With an expense of this size, will you need board approval to get a new AMS in the budget? If so, factor that into your process and timeline.
- Identify which AMS vendors are in your price range before planning initial conversations. This will ensure that you’re speaking to the right people and not wasting time.
Choosing Your AMS: Three to Four Months
Now that you’ve done all of the behind-the-scenes planning, it’s time for the fun part: reaching out to potential vendors. It’s best to plan three to four months for these conversations and product demonstrations as it’s a big decision with many people involved.
- Have initial conversations with all of the AMS vendors you have identified in your initial research. Share your timeline, requirements, and motivations for switching. From here, you’ll begin to schedule introductory demos.
- After the introductory demos, decide which products you and your team would like to go more in-depth with. More of the team will be a part of these demos, so consider everyone’s schedule. This is your chance to ask the more nuanced questions that are specific to your organization’s processes.
- Make sure to check references and reviews of the AMS you’re interested in. Hearing candid, first-hand accounts from current users will help you better understand its strengths or where it might fall short.
- Do you have any customizations with your current AMS? With software constantly innovating, those customizations might be standard with another AMS. Ask potential partners how they would solve those tailored processes.
- What integrations does your association need? Whether you’re using third-party systems or homegrown apps, you should consider the AMS’s ability to integrate when deciding which to choose. Also, ask about the cost to integrate as some vendors will charge a service fee while others might offer out-of-the-box integrations with select platforms.
- Discuss the implementation process and how long you should expect it to take. This can vary from AMS to AMS, so make sure you understand the timeline. Remember: in an ideal situation, you will have an overlap between your new go-live date and when your current contract expires.
Implementing Your New AMS: Four to Five Months
Congrats! You’ve chosen a new AMS and now it’s time to implement. How long does that really take? There’s no easy answer, it depends on each AMS. The earlier during the search process you find out how long implementation will likely be, the better you’ll be able to plan your schedule around it.
Before taking your new AMS live, figure in time to overlap with your legacy system. This will allow you and your team ample time to confirm that your data has been successfully migrated to the new system and that all of your processes are configured correctly. Another upside? An overlap period will give you and your staff plenty of time to learn the mechanics of a new tool through training, becoming internal experts before releasing it to your members.
"It was important to us that the switch between AMS providers be as stress-free as possible. One of the things we did to make this happen was allow for a three month overlap between systems," said Lakisha Miller-Barclay, Executive Director and CEO of Rubber Division, American Chemical Society. "This allowed us the time we needed to test for every contingency. We even invited our board and select members to preview the portal and provide any feedback they had."
So, how much time should you plan from planting the seeds of wanting to switch to a new AMS until it’s fully up and running?
We recommend about a year. For many associations, an AMS is one of the biggest investments they’ll make. It touches so many facets of the member journey and is a critical tool for your staff. If you intend to make the switch, it’s important that you pick the right partner, and picking the right partner takes time.
Simply put: the earlier you start the process, the sooner you can deliver a better experience to your members.
Emma is the Content Marketing Coordinator at Rhythm. When she's not thinking about all things content-related, you can find her traveling or shooting 35 mm film.