Organizing Data for Improved Success: Association Member Software or Member Data Platform

By Jeff Horne • March 2, 2022

By: Nate Brown and Jeff Horne 

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “A good system shortens the road to the goal.” The sentiment rings true for associations around the world, where many professionals are seeking ways to reach their association’s goals, such as: 

  • Member retention
  • Membership growth
  • Earning more non-dues revenue
  • Launching new and profitable events
  • Improving workforce development support

At the core of an association are its members. Selecting the best system to manage membership data to help make powerful and accurate business decisions is critical to help your association reach its goals, but it can be challenging. 

Gone are the days of Excel Spreadsheets to organize and manage member data, now that member management software is accessible both financially and in different formats to suit each association’s unique needs. Two of the most widely used of these technologies are association management software (AMS) and a member data platform (MDP). Both offer unique sets of benefits for associations looking to better manage their membership data, while working towards the same goal – clean, actionable, and accessible data for your association and members.  

Continue reading as we break down the benefits of both options to help you make an informed decision on what is best for your association. 

Is association management software right for your association?  

1. What is association membership software (AMS)? 

Association management software is an association’s membership database connected to a public-facing website with members-only features.  It is designed to serve as an extension of the association’s staff, automating administrative tasks and allowing members to self-serve their account online.  It typically either replaces other technologies an association might use (email marketing, job boards, online learning, etc.) or connects to them through integrations.      

2. What is the major benefit for associations using AMS? 

If you’re currently using very little technology and are looking for a reason to dive into membership software, the biggest benefit is the staff time saved through automated functions and member self-serve.  Time-consuming processes like sending out renewal reminders, processing new member joins, and handling event registrations are now done fully behind the scenes, freeing your staff up to focus more on members and less on data entry.  If you’re currently using a bunch of disjointed systems (for example, Constant Contact, and event reg software, a WordPress website, and an online directory), an AMS can consolidate your vendors by offering a solution capable of replacing most (if not all) of that software.     

3. Can AMS help associations earn additional non-dues revenue? 

Absolutely.  Virtually all AMS platforms feature event registration and donation management modules and accept credit card payments through the system to make e-commerce simple.  Some may feature additional modules like a job board and storefront for online purchases or can even offer online directory upgrades or certification renewal as member benefits through the system that provide additional revenue sources for the association.   

4. What core features are regularly included in AMS?

Membership/renewals and website are the core of AMS.  The focus is to create a single, reliable source for your membership data by keeping all (or at least most) of your association technology under one roof.  All other modules build off the connection between the membership database and the website – modules like communities/forums, job boards, certifications, resource libraries, event registration, and more.    


Is a member data platform right for your association? 

1.What is a member data platform (MDP)?

A Member Data Platform (MDP) is a centralized hub for associations to manage member data while integrating with best-in-class software tools for their membership solutions. An MDP uses two-way synchronization to connect data to and from these software tools. As a result, data is always up to date and the MDP acts as a single source of truth.  

An MDP ditches the idea of built-in modules and instead empowers associations to integrate with industry-leading software tools so they can get the most out of their member management. Although different software tools are being leveraged, the member experience is streamlined by utilizing single sign-on (SSO), so only one set of credentials is required.  

Examples of software that an MDP can integrate with include website content management systems (WordPress), reporting and BI (Association Analytics), e-commerce (WooCommerce), e-mail marketing (Mailchimp), and community engagement platforms (Higher Logic).

2. How is a MDP different than AMS?

An MDP doesn’t use built-in modules; instead, it leans on best-in-class software integrations. It provides associations with the flexibility to choose the tools and technology they want to use versus a boxed-in all-in-one solution that can sometimes feel restricting.  

An MDP also reduces the likelihood of data silos because the platform is built to sync data. An MDP intentionally shares and connects data with other software tools, continuously sending and receiving data, so the MDP is always up to date and acting as a single source of truth.  

As organizations grow and evolve, teams may require more from their membership management system. Since an MDP utilizes best-in-class software integrations instead of built-in modules, it can work with teams to find and integrate new solutions while maintaining data centralization.

3. Can an MDP help associations earn additional non-dues revenue?

Yes! The power of an MDP is in the flexibility that it provides to associations. Under this model, associations can connect their rich membership data with other platforms that can help to drive non-dues revenue. Such platforms may include job boards, learning delivery platforms, and training systems. 

4. What types of data connectors are recommended with a MDP?

While an MDP can connect to any platform, there are common connectors that are a must-have. At the top of this list is your e-mail marketing platform. Synchronizing your membership data with an e-mail marketing platform will empower your marketing team with unmatched segmentation capabilities to deliver relevant content.

Other common connectors include event registration systems, online communities, learning management systems, and e-commerce platforms. When your MDP connects with these tools, your members will always have a consistent, streamlined experience. You will also be able to unify member login and record touchpoints throughout the member journey.  

The choice is up to you.  

Now that we don’t have to choose Excel as a place to monitor and track your members, we now have AMS or MDP – which give you options to choose from.  The benefits of each platform can help your association grow and has the potential to increase your non-dues revenue. If you are looking to start a program today, please contact us and we can sort through which choice will be the best option for your association.  

For more information, please contact Nate Brown!