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The most common question we get at Cobalt is “How much does an association management software implementation really cost?” This can be a difficult question to answer, especially for associations who haven’t updated their systems in years and aren’t aware of current pricing trends.

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In an effort to make shopping for a new system easier, we’ll discuss some of the factors that can affect cost and take some mystery out of the buying process. For the purposes of this discussion, we will be focusing on associations that have 10 – 100 staff members and some level of complexity to their business practices.

Cost Drivers of Association Management Systems:

Adapt or Customize

One of the first questions you should ask before deciding on a new AMS is “how open is my organization to changing its current business processes based on the software available in the market?” If the last time you shopped for an AMS was 5 years ago, you will be pleasantly surprised at how much has changed.

New vendors have entered the market and existing systems have evolved to better meet the needs of membership based organizations. It’s important to note that despite the changes, it is rare that an out of the box system will meet 100% of your company’s needs. This is when you decide if your company is ready to adapt or customize.

So what do we mean when we say adapt or customize? On a high level it means that your company can decide to adapt to the base product offered by the AMS vendor (keeping implementation costs low), or customize the AMS so that you don’t have to compromise on your current processes (this can lead to significantly higher implementation costs). You have probably gone into this process with a budget that may help in deciding which route is best for your business.

Legacy Data

This is the other major cost driver. How much of your existing data do you need migrated to the new system? Notice that I said need, not want. We will often spend hundreds of hours (tens of thousands of dollars) migrating data that will never be used on a regular basis. One great compromise, that we find often works with our customers, is to copy older and less frequently used data straight into the new system without transforming or mapping it. This can simplify the process, save time and reduce costs by not trying map fields that no one has used for 20 years.

All or Nothing

So what do you really want your new system to have? A good resource is your staff members that may already have a list of requirements they have been compiling for years. The temptation to implement all of those ideas into your shiny new AMS might be strong, but you should proceed with caution. You have likely been making tweaks to your system for several years in order to get it to where it is today. That in mind, we strongly encourage customers to take a phased approach to any AMS implementation. This will reduce cost and risk while still providing a success story for your staff, your members and the board. Once the system is in place, you can add the “nice to haves” over time.

Association Management System Price Ranges

We’re aware that we haven’t provided you with a cut and dry answer, but it is important you understand that both the customer and the vendor drive the cost. Based on the current market offerings, you should expect to pay $125 to $250 per user per month with implementation costs ranging from $50k-$250K. Again, this is based on what Cobalt sees as a typical implementation for an association of 10 to 100 staff with light to medium complexity in their business requirements. You can certainly find solutions that are less expensive if you are willing to accept the functionality as is and take on the setup yourself. Before you and your company make a final decision on which vendor, make sure their solution fits within your budget, offers you enough out of the box, and that the vendor has the ability to implement all of your customizations.

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