Submitted by ronja on Fri, 12/31/2021 - 00:00

Why a CRM Might be Right for your Association?

By Farhad Khan, BEng & CEO on December 31, 2021

Not sure which CRM is right for your next membership website? There are a few questions you should ask yourself. Learn more about what you need to look for!

Your Association Needs to Upgrade Its Tech

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. These are all-in-one tools that help associations manage their ongoing administrative duties. The most common features are a searchable and sortable database of contacts, an email system, a website builder, a payment system and event registration.

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. 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 behaviour based on past behaviour 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. 

"Isn’t the Right Choice Obvious?"
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. As such, they are missing some of the features that an AMS offers that help 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. 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. 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 it's functionality gaps. Some tools are better for accounting, while others are better for offering service 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 to get clear first and foremost into the functionality that your association needs to support your members and grow your influence. From this needs assessment, you can identify which AMS or CRM is the right fit for you.

It is realistic to expect that no tool can truly do everything your association needs and that third-party tools will be required. Aim to get a CRM that can manage the core functionality you need and third-party tools can support the efforts as needed.

Backend vs Frontend Functionality
The quest for the best tool for your association management doesn't end with picking a CRM or AMS. These tools help associations manage their backend work: administrative tasks, financial management, segmenting members, etc. The other part of the equation is your frontend tools; namely 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, web developers and web designers have not been put out of business by these template tools.

Tracking and analyzing member activity sounds impressive, but it's no fun when your member engagement rates are low and low member retention rates threaten your ability to expand. Picking the right CRM or AMS for your staff helps your association stay organized internally, but your frontend tools that engage your members have to be impressive as well.

What Members Want
Members want a return on investment on their membership purchase. Members want to see value in being a member. Keeping in mind that happy members stay members, associations that maintain a member-centric approach to benefits delivery position themselves to see their membership grow.

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 LoungeBook 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!