The advent of virtual trade shows has spurred research into why
people join organizations and attend meetings. Findings indicate
that while the choice between two similar organizations might be
based on geographical or educational factors, the underlying reason
for joining is the desire to have personal contact with others who
have similar interests.
The more successful organizations have found a balance between
personal and electronic communication and use the Internet as a
vehicle to deliver additional services and convenience for their
members. Here’s how they do it.
AMS AND BEYOND
The initial association management systems, or AMS, deployed on the
Internet were largely new forms or views of records in existing
databases. They provided an interface where data could be viewed
and changed but, for the most part, could not be directly modified
in the main database. Each vendor developed its own proprietary
Then came XML (extensible markup language), which was supposed
to provide a common interface so data could be shared between
diverse systems. What started as a common goal of a standard data
structure and naming devolved into a Tower of Babel built by the
With the consolidation of AMS providers over the past few years,
it became important for the surviving companies to develop a common
tool set to access data in the diverse systems they had acquired or
Most providers now have some level of an initiative or new
product based on the latest development platform from Microsoft,
called .Net. These tool sets are being designed to work across
vendors and systems to access
The good news is many of these systems are being designed from
the perspective of the member or end-user, rather than for database
Today’s systems do much more than enable associations to
publish membership directories. They allow members to update their
information, sign up for meetings or online sessions, facilitate
communication between members and provide a forum for discussion of
issues affecting the organization.
While chat rooms and listservs have been around for years, newer
systems provide a real-time forum for members to engage in
meaningful conversations, contribute content, and share experiences
with the organization and other members. In addition to keeping
their personal information up-to-date, members also can “attend”
classes and take certification tests online.
These interactive systems allow association staff, who formerly
spent their time entering and managing data, to monitor site
activity, respond to questions, conduct research and provide
expanded member services.
A sign that these systems are more member-oriented is that many
AMS providers now market their products to the corporate world as
CRM (customer relationship management) systems, based on their
successful use as community relationship management systems.
The next evolution in AMS systems will provide integrated website
design and creation tools, content management, online e-commerce
(renewals and registrations), and e-communications. Now, members’
history files show their use of the organization’s website.
As providers move away from proprietary database systems to a
more standard platform, like .Net or XML, organizations also will
have a broader selection of providers for the online aspects of
their membership management systems.