How to Choose an Association Management System (AMS) Nonprofit Resources April 18, 2023

How to Choose an Association Management System (AMS)

Over the past couple of years, Nonprofit Resources has helped several of our clients choose an AMS system to streamline their member management processes. If your organization is using excel sheets to manage members, or you have outgrown your current system, it may be time to consider a move to a new AMS.

Here are some of the takeaways and initial considerations for making an AMS switch:

Membership Structure

You know your members the best and communicating membership structure to a potential AMS is critical for a good transition.

  • Types of Memberships: Are most of your members individuals? Or are they parts of larger organizations? Or do you have a combination of organizational and individual members? Will your AMS need to support functions for chapters?
  • Do you have members that will need multiple roles or accounts integrated into one?
  • How much control do you want your parent members to have over child memberships?

Member Enrollment and Dues Structure

Communicate the details of your membership renewals and dues clearly at the beginning: many AMS systems can be configured in multiple ways, but you don’t want to be troubleshooting during your busiest renewal periods.

  • Can anyone join your association or do you have a process to vet new members?
  • Does your association have a fixed membership start/end date, or do you have ongoing enrollment that ends based on join date?
  • Will you need pro-rated dues billing for members that join halfway through a year?

Features & Integrations

If you don’t have a wishlist of features or list of current stakeholder pain points, you may want to start one. Most AMS systems will be able to cover the majority of features you will be looking for, but rarely will an AMS do everything well. If you have a list of features you are looking for and problems that you would like to solve, you stand a better chance of finding a good match for your association. Prioritizing your list of AMS wants and needs into high/medium/low levels will also help you critically evaluate the features on offer.

  • Identify opportunities to streamline and automate processes
    • What software systems are you currently using?
  • Can the AMS provide extra development support for setting up new integrations?
  • Do you want to authenticate users between integrations? (Will your users expect to use the same login information between your different online presences?)
  • Hidden costs and fine print: Be extra vigilant when confirming that certain services can be integrated. These can sometimes carry some hefty price tags. Or only certain versions of software can be integrated.

Stakeholder User Experience

Have you considered the potential AMS system from the perspective of all of your organization’s primary stakeholders? It’s easy to get caught up in considerations for members or staff, so don’t lose sight of the big picture.

  • Is the member portal easy to navigate?
  • How easy is it for staff to customize and improve the member portal experience?
  • How easy is the administrative side of your AMS to navigate?
  • Is your member portal responsive/mobile-friendly?
  • Is the admin side of your AMS mobile-friendly? If so, are the admin features limited on a mobile device? If not, is access to the AMS admin dashboard from a mobile device a dealbreaker for your organization?

Transition Process

Whether you are switching AMS providers or are getting an Association Management System set up for the first time, expect the process to be lengthy and detailed. Good communication between your organization and the AMS setup team will be critical for keeping the process moving and meeting critical deadlines. Here are some questions to ask when evaluating your ability to work closely with an AMS transition team:

  • How long does the setup/transition process normally take?
  • What does your setup/transition process look like?
  • How does the AMS provider project manage and keep things moving?

Data Migration

A major part of any AMS project is ensuring that the organization’s data is accurate and accessible. Determining the responsibilities for data handling beforehand may say your organization some heartache in the future.

  • Does the AMS offer assistance with data cleanup?
  • What kind of file format can data be delivered in?
  • If you currently have an AMS or CRM, can they work with a data export from your current system?
  • How much historical data will be captured and transferred to the new system?
  • If manual data entry is needed, who will be responsible for entering the data?

Setup and Ongoing Charges 

Budget is a major component in making a decision between AMS software. Take care when comparing pricing between companies: the good deal may not be as attractive after penciling out all of the additional costs. Or the solution that seemed out of reach may seem like a bargain when considering all of the included features.

  • Getting a clear answer on pricing can be tricky. Expect an initial setup fee and ongoing yearly charges. 
  • Determine what kind of support is provided and what types of additional fees are charged for support. 
  • Are there additional fees for certain functions? Many AMS systems are set up as a series of modules that add functionality for a customized experience.  
    • Having an outline that shows all of the tasks and processes for both staff and members will help you get the best mix of add-ons.

Beware the Hidden Fees!

Budgeting for a complex transition can be tricky, and we can guarantee there will be an unexpected cost somewhere in the process. However, with some preparation and foresight, hopefully, that surprise invoice will be no big deal. Look out for:

  • Early cancellation fees for any software/services that will be discontinued during the transition
  • Extra fees for integrations. Many integrations or extra AMS features will add to the final cost of your project. Integration fees can add a surprising expense to your project, so do your homework on integrations before you sign a contract! This information may not be available directly from the AMS provider and may require you to contact the integration software provider directly.
  • Subscriptions for themes, plugins, integrations, updates, and premium support. This is particularly relevant for small associations that may be considering membership plugins that have some AMS-like features for platforms like WordPress and Wix. Base packages may be free, but the powerful features and premium support incur extra charges.
  • Extra charges for data exports from your current systems while troubleshooting your new AMS system.
  • User licenses. Does your potential AMS allow you unlimited admin users, or will you have to buy additional licenses or seats for each of your staff?


We hope you found this list of considerations for AMS systems helpful. Our mission is to help nonprofits succeed: improving our client’s organization by helping them find and setup the right AMS is one of the ways we can fulfill our mission.

Write a comment
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with all things Nonprofit Resources!

* indicates required
%d bloggers like this: