Finding the Right Fit to Manage Member Engagement: AMS vs MDP

By Jeff Horne • July 22, 2020

Acquiring new members and increasing member engagement are critical goals for any association. The right member management platform is a critical tool in your organization’s pursuit of these goals. With the right member management platform, you can efficiently manage members while also understanding what needs to be done to increase engagement and attract new members.  

When shopping for a new member management platform, you’ve probably heard of AMS solutions and, more recently, MDP solutions. What are these two platforms? What are their differences? How do you know which type of platform is right for your organization? 

Let’s do a deep dive into the differences between these platforms. Being able to fully understand the options available to you is the first step to choosing your perfect solution. When you can clearly identify the differences, benefits and challenges of each platform, you’ll be able to make a fully informed decision. 

What are the key differences between AMS and MDP solutions? 

Association Management Software (AMS)

Laptop with files coming out 1024pxAMS is an all-in-one solution, designed specifically for associations and member-based organizations. When you choose an AMS, you’ll be getting an extensive set of features within the product. You can expect there to be a module within the software that will help you with your everyday tasks, including website management, dues and renewals payments and conference/event registration and management.

Member Data Platforms (MDP)

Tech icons in circles on a futuristic screen connected by lines with a man pointing to Bucky ball in the middle

MDPs are the newest category of software for member management. They’re also specifically designed for associations and other member-based organizations. MDPs are designed with an opposite approach to AMS solutions. Instead of doing it all, MDPs are developed to allow users the flexibility to choose different best-in-class software for their daily needs. Instead of having all the features within the product, an MDP will connect to all of the tools needed to run your associations daily functions. Still a single source of truth, an MDP syncs member data from all your tools back into one centralized database. From a member perspective, the experience is perfectly coherent because your MDP will tie all of your software together seamlessly. For example, members can use one username and password with single-sign-on features offered by your MDP.

What are some of the pros and cons of each type of platform?

Benefits of an AMS solution

With decades of experience, AMS platforms have been focused solely on member-based organizations for a long time. Their industry experience is one of their greatest benefits. All the modules and tools they create are designed with the specific needs of associations in mind. 

With an AMS, you’ll be able to use one tool to power a large portion of your organization. From an operational standpoint, there’s less complexity because your staff will only need to learn and maintain a single platform. 

Drawbacks of an AMS solution

Warning signWhile being a positive, the long-established legacy of AMS solutions is also a drawback. Often an AMS may not offer all the functionality required when compared to modern software. Both the overall user experience and feature capabilities of an AMS are typically not as robust as software tools that specialize in key functional areas.  For example, an email module in an AMS won’t be as rich as using your choice of best-in-class email marketing platforms. If any of your staff branch off and switch to best-in-class software, you’ll end up with data silos because AMS solutions often don’t integrate easily with external tools. 

Benefits of an MDP solution 

Because MDPs are more modern, they focus on ensuring an efficient and intuitive user experience. You can pair your MDP with any best-in-class software and keep everything connected with two-way data synchronization. Staff and members have come to expect the efficiencies and intuitive experience that modern software can offer and an MDP can deliver on that expectation.

MDPs ensure that you can use the right tools for the job without having to compromise on your member experience or data. For example, when your members are using different tools to register for events or participate in courses, their interactions are synced back into your MDP  as data points so that you can maintain a single source of truth on member engagement. With SSO and profile synchronization, your members will also enjoy a seamless experience and never know when they’re using a different tool. Members will  only ever need to remember one username and password to log in to all of the experiences you offer. If they update their profile data in one tool, your MDP will ensure that the update is synched to the rest of your ecosystem of software as well.

Drawbacks of an MDP solution

Warning signAn MDP won’t replace your existing software subscriptions. MDPs specialize in member management, so you’ll need supporting software. Email marketing, event management, online learning, etc., needs to be done using the best-in-class software that specializes in those areas. This means that your team will have to learn how to use a few different tools. It also means that you’ll need to choose an ecosystem of software that works well together to cover all of your needs. 

Set yourself up for success before you even start looking at platforms. 

Before you start looking at software, you need to create a comprehensive list of your requirements. The success of your implementation of a new member management system relies on your ability to thoroughly identify your needs before you start shopping.

Here are a few of our tips for getting your requirements list started:

  1. Consider your budget. Start by creating a detailed budget. This budget should include more than just the cost of the software. You’ll need to also consider expenses for any staff overtime to get your new solution off the ground, and any added costs for customization work.
  2. Consider your team’s needs. How does your team like to work? Does your team already branch out and use different tools for their specific needs or do they tend to stay within the limits of AMS modules. If your team wants to use different tools that specialize in their given area, an MDP approach is probably the right choice. On the other hand, smaller teams might find it easier to learn one platform instead of several tools and an AMS solution might be right for you if that’s the case.
  3. Consider your members. How would your members benefit from different solutions? You’ll want to assess the features both offer you in terms of the direct interaction members will have with the platforms and in terms of your ability to better understand and action on member engagement data. 
When you know exactly what you need, want and, equally important, what you don’t want from a platform, it will help you quickly narrow your list of options.

Knowing exactly what your requirements are will put you in a position to drive the conversations with potential vendors and make the most of product demos. When you know exactly what you need, want and, equally important, what you don’t want from a platform, it will help you quickly narrow your list of options. Understanding your organization’s requirements and the capabilities of platforms is a key piece in ensuring a successful implementation of your new member management platform. 

About The Author

Jeff Horne is the Co-Founder & CEO of Wicket, and a passionate advocate and change agent for software solutions available to member-driven organizations. Jeff speaks regularly on the power of modern technology for associations and nonprofits and how it can be leveraged to better engage with members, increase member acquisition and create operational efficiencies. Jeff has been working with digital technologies for associations for over 20 years through his work with Industrial, the digital agency he founded in 2000. Follow Jeff on Twitter at @jeffhorne and Wicket at @wicket_io.