Recently, a new Indiana Jones movie was released in theaters; it is the fifth installment in a franchise that spans more than 30 years. Each of these movies follows a similar narrative arc. There is the discovery of a mysterious historical artifact with enormous power that, if it falls into the wrong hands, could have devastating consequences. Our hero, Indiana Jones, must traverse the globe to find and secure the artifact before the bad guys can get to it and use it for a nefarious purpose. 

The beauty of the Indiana Jones franchise is that there is always another mysterious artifact to be discovered, people with bad intentions to thwart and joy experienced in seeing these events play out on screen again and again. But, it’s worth stating that our joy as the audience is due in part to the fact that each of these adventures is successfully resolved by the end of the movie. The adventure simply can’t continue in perpetuity. If it did, it would no longer be thrilling and satisfying but instead meandering and tedious. 

The Quest for an Association Management Software Solution 

How is this relevant to the world of Association Management Software (AMS)? Many large associations, which I’m defining as ones with $10 million or more in annual revenue, are, like Indiana Jones, on a similar type of quest. Their quest is to craft a modern technology ecosystem that can survive and thrive in an environment increasingly characterized by changing member demographics iand expectations across different generationsii.   

And of course, as the foundation of this ecosystem, the AMS solution deservedly gets much attention in this quest. Unfortunately, many of the largest associations have been led astray by promises of a modern member experience that simply must include supposedly flashy tools such as “AI” or “machine learning” without much thought given to the actual use-case and strategic outcomes. Additionally, association professionals hear that the path to nirvana is through a “best of breed” technology model, although it is unclear which products are truly best of breed and very little mention is made of the true cost of ownership for all these best of breed tools. Many association professionals are also told that their AMS must be built-upon Salesforce or Dynamics even though those platforms come with costly licensing fees and were never designed for the association market in the first place. 

The result is that this quest, no matter how well-intentioned, often doesn’t end successfully (if it ever truly ends). Instead, an association could invest hundreds of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars only to realize, after the fact, that at best, they are right back where they started. And, in many cases, the changes they have enacted have disrupted the experiences their members have with the organization and their operational performance. 

None of this is to say that associations should simply keep their current technology, particularly if using an outdated solution. Living with antiquated tech is not a strategy for long-term success for any organization that cares about their customer experience (just ask Southwest Airlines).   

Instead, association leaders should consider a measured approach that is less about chasing shiny new tools and more about balancing technological evolution with the practical needs of all relevant stakeholders, including IT staff, internal power users and, of course, members.   

With that in mind, here are three questions that association professionals should consider when on a quest to modernize their AMS. 

Question 1: Does your AMS Have a Strong Financial Backbone? 

Most associations operate under the premise that member management features are most critical to one’s evaluation of an AMS. And, while those features are certainly important, the reality is that many large associations have a highly diverse revenue model, including membership dues, donations, event registration and sponsorships, trade show booth sales, online career centers, certifications, educational content and possibly even the sale of third-party partner products and services. For this reason, the robustness and sophistication of the financial management features is often the most important characteristic of a modern AMS. 

The need for an AMS to provide advanced financial management features is not casual, but critical and is a common shortfall in most CRM-based AMS solutions. Those platforms are not designed to manage the complex revenue management workflows of a large association, which usually requires the association to look elsewhere for more sophisticated financial management.   

Platform-based AMS providers will try to spin this feature gap as somehow furthering the “best of breed” technology model, but it’s really an attempt to hide that their product has significant limitations that require writing a large check and undertaking a major integration to resolve, thus inflating the cost and complexity of the association’s technology stack.   

Question 2: Who’s Your Identity Provider (IDP)? 

It’s not particularly profound to proclaim that identity management and single sign on (SSO) is critical to crafting a seamless member experience. No member wants to recall more than one account password or authenticate multiple times to navigate their association’s website. And, in many cases, it’s assumed that the AMS provider has the tools necessary to implement SSO.   

However, it’s important to read the fine print because, if an AMS can’t be the Identity Provider (IDP) for the entire technology stack, then the association will be left with no choice but to purchase a separate third-party identity solution such as OKTA or OneLogin, which will increase their annual cost by tens of thousands, or in some, cases hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.  If evaluating a CRM-based product, it’s critical to understand whether the identity management tool is incorporated into the AMS subscription fee or (more likely) is licensed separately and, if the latter, the impact on total cost of ownership. 

If an AMS provider claims that they can be the IDP, then, it’s crucial to determine whether their solution uses industry standard SSO authentication protocols, such as SAML, OATH and OIDC. If not, then there will almost certainly be substantial costs incurred to integrate with other technologies and maintain those integrations over time. 

Question 3: How Much Control Over Your Data Do You Require? 

In our experience working with some of the largest, most sophisticated associations in North America, we’ve found that virtually all have unique integration, reporting or data management needs that necessitate access that is safe, secure and compliant. However, because of the way some have designed the infrastructure around their product, many AMS providers are fundamentally unable to meet this requirement.   

To address this limitation, providers will make bold claims about their supposed world-class managed services organization that will ensure the IT team’s needs are met.  Unfortunately, too often, the managed services organization doesn’t deliver on those claims, leaving the IT staff feeling frustrated by their inability to access and manage their associations data in the best manner possible. 

The three key criteria for any AMS provider to successfully meet this requirement are:  

  1. A dedicated, single tenant database 
  1. Hosting through a world-class cloud provider 
  1. A cloud operations team with deep experience to work collaboratively with the client using industry best practices 

Looking for Guidance on Choosing an AMS? 

Finding the most effective association management software is: “Not as easy as it used to be” — Indiana Jones. 
While this is not a conclusive list in covering all relevant criteria for selecting a modern AMS, our goal is to underscore the importance of evaluating an AMS solution as the foundation for any large association’s technology ecosystem and understanding the AMS through the lenses of cost of ownership, feature robustness and practicality.   

ThreeSixty by Personify is the only purpose-built AMS for large associations that delivers a modern member experience while also anchoring the broader technology ecosystem that aligns to your organization’s overall goals and objectives.  

ThreeSixty can empower your organization by providing: 

  • A robust and flexible technology infrastructure that supports your unique processes and complex workflows 
  • A powerful foundation that can be customized to meet your needs today and tomorrow with a modern and extendable, browser-based interface  
  • An in-house professional services team with extensive platform knowledge and industry expertise  

This combination delivers a uniquely-tailored and purpose-built system with a team that is committed to supporting your staff on every step of the journey.