Why a CRM Might be Right for your Association?

Has your association outgrown its current tech setup? Perhaps the database you are using can’t create the membership reports you need. Perhaps your member content and member benefits have outgrown what your current website and management tools can handle. It’s time to shop for new tech!

There are a number of choices in the association software space. The goal of this blog is to help you make sense of the landscape and choose the best options for your association’s needs.

Let’s start by explaining the difference between the two main directions you can go with AMS or CRM.

What is an AMS?

AMS stands for Association Management Software. Essentially, these are all-in-one tools that help associations manage their ongoing administrative duties. Among the most common features are a searchable and sortable database of contacts, an email system, a website builder, a payment system, and event registration.

Moreover, with all of these core association activities being managed in one place, your association can eliminate other tools that only do one of these functions. As a result, this saves time and money and saves your team from managing and updating data on multiple platforms

Sounds like a good upgrade, right? Hold on because we have another type of software to consider: the CRM.

What is a CRM?

CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management. It’s the same idea as the AMS — the all-in-one multifunctional tool — but it’s not specific to associations. CRMs are used by nonprofits and for-profit companies across all sectors of the business world to manage their constituents, their activities, and communication with them.

The biggest strength of a CRM is the ability to analyze and report on engagement and activities made by your constituents. The strength of an AMS is tracking member data, whereas a CRM has the sophisticated functionality to allow you to analyze relationships, participation, communication, and even predict member behavior based on past behavior of members.

A CRM is great for keeping track of different segments of your members – for instance, new members, members up for renewal, or members who are not engaged at all. This way you can be strategic with how you market and communicate with each member segment based on their level of engagement. 

The Right Choice

Having one place to track all contacts, members, communication, and activities is the key to managing your association’s growth, member engagement, and delivering targeted communication. The tracking, reporting, and analytical functions of a CRM are certainly persuasive that it’s the best choice — but proceed with caution.

CRMs were built for the business world, not for associations. Consequently, they are missing one of the features that an AMS offers, helping associations perform tasks that are specific to their niche.

Ideally, an association would have both an AMS for the association-specific functionality and a CRM for the analytics, reporting, and segmentation for smart email communication. This is only theoretical because associations are always on a budget!

Myth Busting 101: The Perfect All-in-One Tool Doesn’t Exist

The world of software is always changing and improving. Consequently, most AMS and CRM providers are trying to attract clients by expanding the features they offer. AMS companies are working on implementing the sophisticated marketing features of CRMs. On the other hand, CRM companies see the gap in their functionality for associations and are working to provide association-specific features to gain market share.

While each platform can do many things — and some of them come close to doing it all! — each one has its strengths and its functionality gaps. Some tools are better for accounting, while others are better for offering services in different languages. Some tools are better for delivering educational material, others have better or worse customer service. Oh, and with the prevalent product licensing model in the CRM and AMS world, surprises and hidden fees abound.

The Right Choice: The Tool that Captures the Core of Your Association’s Needs
Before you venture out to explore and demo the AMS and CRM tools on the market, take a look internally to perform a needs assessment of your association. The key to finding the right tools for your association is to start with this inside-out approach, getting clear first and foremost into the functionality that your association needs to support your members and grow your influence. Consequently, from this needs assessment, you can identify which AMS or CRM is the right fit for you.

It’s realistic to expect that no single tool can fulfill all your association’s needs. Third-party tools will likely be necessary. Focus on obtaining a CRM that handles your essential functions, with third-party tools complementing your efforts as necessary.

Backend vs Frontend Functionality

The quest for the best tool for your association management doesn’t end with picking a CRM or AMS. Moreover, these tools help associations manage their backend work: administrative tasks, financial management, segmenting members, etc. On the other hand, the other part of the equation is your frontend tools; specifically, your public-facing website and your membership site that houses your member benefits

Many CRMs boast of having a website-building tool. While these template tools do build websites, some leave a lot to be desired. Their strengths are in the tracking and analysis, not in user journey, user experience, and membership marketing. In short, these template tools have not put web developers and web designers out of business.

Tracking and analyzing member activity may sound impressive. However, it’s disheartening when member engagement is low, and member retention is at risk. Selecting the right CRM or AMS aids internal organization, but you also need impressive front-end tools to engage your members.

What Members Want

Members want a return on investment on their membership purchase. Members want to see value in being a member. Remember, happy members tend to stay. Associations that prioritize a member-centric approach to delivering benefits position themselves for potential membership growth.

The #1 Benefits Delivery Tool
We recommend that associations that are looking to revitalize member engagement and increase member retention have a look at the latest membership site that focuses on member benefits delivery called Member Lounge

Book a time to learn more and see a demo.

Looking for More Strategies to Engage Members?
Check out upcoming webinars and interviews with association thought leaders!


Farhad Khan, CEO

A tech entrepreneur specialized in creating membership websites for professional associations to increase member engagement. My background is as an engineer for Nortel and Ericsson. I started my own tech company in 2009 to help associations and nonprofits solve their challenges with my digital technology skills.