Why Does an Association Need a CRM System?

“Why does an Association need a CRM system?” is a question many Association leaders ask. Most are familiar with Association Management Systems (AMS). How does a CRM (Customer Relation Management) system fit in? How does an AMS compare to a CRM in terms of features?

AMS Versus CRM

Associations need to support numerous processes. These include: 

Financial Management including dues and other payments

Member directory/database

Internal communications and collaboration


Email marketing

Surveys and feedback



Website management

Sponsor and advertiser management

Some functions like mobile apps and reporting span across the above processes.

AMS software vendors range from those that offer support for a single process to those that combine multiple processes.

A CRM system is defined as software that, “gathers customer interactions across all channels in one place. Managing centralized data helps businesses improve customer experience, satisfaction, retention and service.”.

The focus of CRM is on the Customer. This translates to Member in the Association world. Yet, keeping the word “Customer” in mind helps concentrate the thinking of Association leaders. A CRM system gathers information about Customers to better manage the relationship to boost sales and encourage a long-term relationship. For Associations, the same idea applies with the ultimate goal of Member satisfaction and long-term retention.

Some AMS vendors are beginning to include CRM functionality in their products. What specific CRM features should Associations look for?

Two Key CRM Features

While CRMs have many features, two broad categories encompass some of the most important functions.

Member Database

More than just basic contact and demographic Information, CRM captures all interactions with a Member. This could include: 

Individual and blast emails

Phone calls

Inclusion in a marketing campaign

Event attendance

The data may be added automatically or manually. For example, information that a Member was included on a marketing blast email could be automatically added. For a person-to-person phone call, the caller would need to add notes about the interaction. A defining aspect of this data capture is that the information can be shared among Association staff and leaders, so everyone shares the same view of the Member.

Membership Pipeline

The pipeline concept can be applied in a few ways.

One way is to track prospective Members from identification to Member. This allows the Association to communicate with prospective Members at various milestones to increase the likelihood of “closing the sale.”

Another application of the pipeline concept is managing Member lifecycle. Targeted actions at various points in a Member’s lifecycle can motivate renewals.

Pipeline functionality allows for more organized management of Member-focused processes. It gives the Association a “track to run in” so scarce human resources can be deployed efficiently to meet the organization’s goals.

How Much CRM?

The question for Associations interested in implementing a CRM is whether to acquire standalone CRM software or invest in an AMS solution that incorporates CRM functionality.

A standalone CRM may have more useful features since it is dedicated to one function. However, the compatibility with other software used by the Association is a question mark. This lack of integration could cause inefficiencies.

Acquiring an AMS with CRM capabilities likely avoids the integration problems. However, does this CRM have enough features to be truly useful for the Association?

To be in the best position to judge between these two alternatives, the Association needs to educate itself on CRM principles. With this knowledge, a list of desired functionalities should be made and used to evaluate various vendor offerings.

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