“How much does an association management system implementation really cost?” This can be a difficult question to answer, but it’s one of the most common ones we’ve heard in the last 25+ years. It is especially hard to say for associations who haven’t updated their AMS in years and aren’t aware of current AMS pricing trends.
We can offer you three things quickly, today.
Today’s Average AMS Software Implementation Costs
We will dig into the major cost factors and questions you should ask in a moment, but here’s the bottom line. If you outsource your AMS implementation, have 10-100 association staff members, and business requirements in the “light-to-medium” range, you should expect to pay implementation costs ranging from $150K – $250K, with ongoing costs of $75 – $150 per user, per month.
Budget AMS Options for Association Management Software
Maybe your organization doesn’t fit the description above. Or, maybe it does, but you don’t have the budget for an association management software fitted to your exact business requirements. There are definitely ways to keep this project under the projections we’ve outlined. Here are some quick considerations for your team.
Remember that both the customer and the vendor drive the cost of association membership software implementations. The vendor’s costs might be out of your control, but you can pay less if you:
A. Only work with out-of-the-box functionality for whatever system you choose. It will inevitably mean sacrificing some of your team and members’ specific needs or priorities, but it’s possible.
B. Take on the AMS set up yourself. There are obvious risks to this approach as well, but one of the most expensive costs layered into a vendor’s products and services is their expertise, which should equal a much faster, headache-free transition for your team and members. When every dollar counts, or your budget just isn’t there though, some associations can pull this off with in-house expertise.
3 Major AMS Pricing Drivers
Many factors could play a significant role in how much an AMS system implementation costs your organization. However, there are three major considerations that often make the biggest difference: the level of AMS customization, how much legacy data you migrate, and the initial complexity of your new system. Let’s briefly look at what you should consider around each of these issues.
1. 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 even 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.
What do we mean when we say adapt or customize? At 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).
How should you decide which option is best? Many associations set a budget for an AMS software implementation project beforehand and let that drive the level of customization they can afford. That’s not necessarily a bad way to go, but there is a strong case to be made for only disclosing 80% – 85% of your projected budget to a prospective vendor. Read more about that in this post: What Should You Budget for a New AMS?
2. Legacy AMS Data Migration
This is the second major cost driver for association management software implementations. How much of your existing data do you need migrated to the new system? Please note that we said need, not want. Cobalt frequently spends hundreds of hours (and tens of thousands of our clients’ budget dollars) because a customer is afraid to leave any data behind and we end up migrating data that will likely never be used on a regular basis.
It really doesn’t need to be that way for your team. One great compromise that our customers appreciate 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. You can also simply keep a backup of your previous system and you can always migrate that data later if you realize that you need it.
Who should decide which data you migrate? Our approach is to listen well and listen early in the process to your team’s heaviest AMS users. How are they using your current AMS software? What are their top or most frequent day-to-day tasks? If you do a good job of mapping those needs out, along with your top business requirements, you should have a great, trustworthy start on flagging essential data. This is something we’re happy to talk more about in a free assessment and consultation with your team.
3. All or Nothing Implementation
The initial complexity of your new system is the other big factor for teams trying to sort out how much to spend on their next AMS implementation. What do you really want your new system to have? Your staff members may already have a list of requirements they have been compiling for years, especially if it has been a while since your last AMS upgrade.
Cobalt is an AMS vendor with the kind of deep experience to build anything your team could want, so please believe us when we say: we know the temptation to implement all of those ideas into your shiny new AMS might be strong. But you should proceed with caution, and here’s why.
You have likely been making tweaks to your system for several years in order to get it to where it is today. With that in mind, we strongly encourage customers to take a phased approach to any AMS implementation. This will reduce your upfront 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-have options over time.
Things have changed tremendously since the early days of proprietary, closed systems. Integrations, updates, upgrades, and more can happen very quickly, or even automatically. Open API systems like Microsoft Dynamics 365 mean adding custom association software solutions like Cobalt’s Engagement Dynamics are significantly faster and more cost-effective than they were 10 or 15 years ago. And with a partner like Cobalt, adding new features or out-of-the-box functionality from the Power Platform a year or two after your AMS implementation is easy.
What Should You Budget for a New Association Management System?
Given the current average AMS pricing for these kinds of implementations and factors we’ve outlined, what should you plan to spend?
Clearly, we can’t give you a dollar amount today, but we can offer some free, strong advice after so many years of navigating these vendor partnership conversations.
Look for a Budget Estimate or Range
Any software vendor that tries to give you an exact, upfront price for a custom, agile AMS implementation is either not telling the truth, or doesn’t have enough experience to understand a project this complex.
Outliers are Often Just Liars
If you start pricing AMS systems or sending out some version of an RFI, RFQ, & RFP to vendors and someone comes back with a much lower estimate, that’s another red flag. Cobalt has been competing in this market since 1996. Vendor prices for an AMS should be within 10 – 20% of one another. Any lowball offer is hiding additional costs the vendor doesn’t want to reveal upfront — or they don’t actually understand what you do.
Don’t Set Your Budget in a Vacuum
Arbitrarily setting a budget almost always creates unwanted complications for associations. If you settle on an ironclad number up front, then every step in the rest of the process becomes about trying to see how many features you can get for that price. The hidden problems soon emerge, though.
The biggest one we run into with our clients is that as we get midway through scoping their implementation, and then they find out we have features and benefits they didn’t know about beforehand but discover they could really use. Then it becomes a painful process of eliminating other items they want or need to accommodate the budget ceiling they were already up against.
Hold Something Back in Your Budget Conversations
When you do settle on an estimated budget — keep it to yourself. It might be best to not even tell all of your internal stakeholders, especially business users. It may sound like loaded advice for a vendor to offer a prospective client, but we believe it works better for everyone if you know what you can spend but hold something back in your conversations.
Based on our long history of working out AMS and CRM solutions for associations, you should hold back 15 – 20% of what you can actually afford to spend. When you set your ideal spend low with your vendor to give you wiggle room as the project develops, and it will go much easier for everyone.
Any good vendor will include a 10 – 15% contingency in their proposals and estimates. So, this will give you the flexibility you need to adapt to changing priorities and requirements as you navigate your implementation.
Gain Budget Confidence Early
When you loop trustworthy vendors into the conversation early, you can be a lot more confident about what you’re paying for and what it will really cost. We suggest that you don’t even go to your decision makers and ask for a budget for this project until you’ve talked with vendors in the market to get an idea of what’s available and realistic.
Association Management System Implementation Costs: Final Thoughts
We covered a lot of ground in this article, so let’s quickly recap helpful takeaways.
Doing all the AMS implementation set up and trading some of your specific business requirements and member priorities are the biggest drawbacks of a cheaper AMS and whatever its out-of-the-box functionality happens to be.
If you outsource your AMS software implementation, have less than 100 staff members and your business requirements aren’t overly complex, counts on implementation costs around $150k – $250K, monthly costs of $75 – $150 per user.
There are 3 major factors that will influence the complexity of this project and AMS pricing:
- the level of AMS customization to standard functionality ratio
- how much legacy data you choose to migrate to your new AMS
- the initial complexity of your new system vs. phasing in new or additional features