Expert tips: the why and what of AMS selection

Gretchen Steenstra | 10.06.14
Topics: Software Requirements & Selection, AMS - Data - Membership

Last month’s ASAE Membership Section virtual brown bag on AMS selection got my wheels turning on the topic. Today’s post marks my first in a series of lessons learned from the session, augmented by my years of experience as both an association executive and a consultant who’s seen a lot happen in selection, implementation, and maintenance. You might say that it’s a topic I’m passionate about!

Let’s begin with the focus of today’s blog: there are 2 key things you need to know before you embark on an AMS selection:

  1. Why you want a new AMS
  2. What you want in a new AMS

Let’s start with the why first.


Why is your organization considering a new AMS? Do you need new functionality? Is your association starting a new line of business? Is staff bored? 

You need to identify the reason for change, and make sure it’s legit. A common pitfall I see is an organization deciding to invest in a new AMS simply because they think it’s time, or they fall for some new cool technology, or they see someone else doing it. Not good enough!

Instead, you need to answer this question:

  • How will a new AMS better support your organization’s goals?

If you can’t answer that question, legitimately, you need to press pause and carve out some time for internal, organizational reflection before you go any further.

Now for the what. 

What do you want in a new AMS? Addy Kujawa, CAE (Executive Director American Academy of Orthopaedic Executives) said during the brown bag, “You need clarity on requirements.” Usually when an AMS doesn’t live up to expectations, it’s because the requirements analysis process wasn’t sufficiently thorough. The necessary questions weren’t asked, the necessary buttons weren’t pushed, and the necessary changes weren’t considered.

Vendors can only work with the requirements you provide. They won’t know your association’s needs or the problems you’re trying to solve until you educate them either in person (highly recommended) or in your RFP. They need to understand your association’s mission, goals (both high-level and operational), and how technology is supporting your association in achieving those goals.

Give vendors clear information about the business processes that are critical to your organization. How do you use your current AMS? What type of manual processes are still being used? How are members (or customers, attendees, etc.) interacting with the AMS? What type of data and reports do you need to pull from the AMS?

An AMS is the sum of its parts. It’s part of a universe of related vendor partners and systems that interact and integrate with it. It is critical to include that entire universe in the information you provide to vendors so they know about all possible integration points. 

Sit down with each of your existing system vendors and ask them which AMS they integrate the best with and why.

Teri Carden (Founder, had some great parting advice for the brown bag participants: “Finding the perfect AMS is like finding the perfect spouse. They don’t exist. Find the best AMS for your needs.”

Tune in tomorrow for advice on preparing your staff for a new AMS.

Other posts in this series:

Additional reading:

Flickr photo by Jay Williams

About Gretchen Steenstra

A PMP and Professional Facilitator, Gretchen has more tricks up her sleeve than she has, well, sleeves! Extremely active in the association community, you'll find her just about everywhere—from ASAE to AMS Fest. Lucky for us, you can also find her here on The DelCor Connection.

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