The Future of Association Management Systems

What’s the future of AMS? This seems to be the question that has haunted association execs for more than 25 years when the initial association management system hit the not-for-profit marketplace.

You get a different answer depending on who you speak with, but put on the spot were 5 of the industry’s leading AMS provokers for a panel discussion at ASAE’s 2014 Technology conference held in December at the Gaylord National Harbor just outside of Washington DC. Represented were Teri Carden, Founder of, an online AMS review service; Sig VanDamme, CCO and Founder of NimbleUser, an enterprise Salesforce-based AMS; Mark Patterson, Senior VP at Aptify, another well-known AMS provider; Loretta DeLuca, Founder and CEO of DelCor, a well-established technology consulting firm; and the token sass master, Mark Dorsey, CAE, Executive Director and CEO of the Professional Ski Instructors of America. This team was moderated by the quick-witted David Gammel, CAE, Executive Director of the Entomological Society of America.

Though this group could have been locked in a room with no audience and had plenty to heatedly debate on the future of AMS, the conversation with the standing-room-only audience stayed cordial yet provided plenty for attendees to chew on in regards to the future of AMS.


A few takeaways:

Cost: It’s no surprise that the AMS is the financial beast of most associations and despite the squirming of a couple of the panelists (haha) there was the unfortunate mention that the near future of AMS costs will not change. Loretta brought up the obvious but not the always-thought-about fact that, “The AMSes that are easier to get into are the ones that are easier to get out of,” and mentioned that SAAS models tend to be the most flexible in that regard.

Mobile: Mobile, moblah, blah blah, blah, blah. That’s basically what we heard. AMSes should have been there done that and had the t-shirt on it. But why? Why are we still talking about our technology systems being mobile? Well, they all aren’t there yet and it’s affecting our members and our staff. There was discussion about how much of the AMS could truly go mobile. Certainly member-facing forms and ecommerce will have to adapt, as well as some specific functionality that the staff may need in settings such as meetings and events, but the panel was unsure if there was even a need for the entire system to be made available as a mobile interface or app.

Is the AMS part of the solar system of technologies or should it be the sun?

Now, here’s where I think several of the panelists could’ve gotten bloody noses had they really been locked in a room to bout it out. The traditional thinkers of the group felt secure stating that the AMS should be the single system holding all precious data for the organization. The thought behind that is breaking down silos and creating more efficient reporting, engagement, etc. However, more unconventional thinkers (see John Mancini’s recent e-book) are begging the question that since our reliance on AMS has been… well…unreliable for so long, why not diversify the data and depend on some of the other core-competent systems to well… be more competent. Additionally, the systems on the market for specific functions have become so mature and full-featured that it may be unreasonable to expect the AMS to capture that functionality again. Integration amongst various systems and the AMS is now the norm for almost everyone.

Training: It’s not always the AMSes fault and that’s one thing the panel did agree on. Associations are notorious for ignoring the fact that training is an ongoing expense that has to be accounted for when budgeting and planning professional development. But then again, the question was brought up on why our systems are so complex that they require training? For now, the answer is clear – training is a must. For the future? Associations should budget appropriately for AMS training, especially beyond implementation.

Implementation vs Technology:

Teri had a first stab at the question regarding which is more important—the implementation or the technology—and quickly pointed that a perfect implementation can be overridden by a buggy and poorly developed system. However, she stated that both of these are in the dark shadows of customer support. By way of a word cloud, she pulled the top 20 words from the 260+ published reviews on and 3 of the top words are customer, service, and support. There’s no question that she’s echoing the sentiments of end users of more 40+ systems—support is the top priority.

Unfortunately none of the panelists uncovered a silver bullet to what’s in store for our systems but one thing’s for sure, as long as these conversations continue to be exposed, association professions will have the strength to rally for higher expectations in regards to cost, implementation, ongoing support and intuitive features.

Several follow-up conversations about the panel discussion revealed that attendees were really ready for a good ole-fashioned boxing match so maybe a lockup and heated debate should be in order. I hate to say it, but only the future will tell.