I’ve spent a number of posts discussing how WordPress could be used in place of an association management system for small associations but when you get right down to it, I don’t believe for a minute that the approach would work for a large association. In the past, I have discussed how I think future software could be written for the large association but for now I think they are stuck with the commercial options.
Here are a few reasons:
- Large associations want what they want and they have the money to pay for it. Lip service is paid to keeping customization costs down but seldom have I seen the large association follow through with this and not cave in to the powerful membership or marketing director who is dead sure that their complex approach is what holds the entire organization together. No one wants to abandon their complex pricing and discounting schemes.
- Software support is vital to a large organization. Depending on a mix of software from small independent vendors is a dangerous thing when you are protecting the crown jewels of the organization. Though I have found support for many plugins to be good, I have also seen some where it is not so good. What’s more, once you commit to a specific plugin, it is difficult to swap it out for something else if something no longer works. Then again, support from the large AMS vendors isn’t as responsive as we would like but at least you have somewhere to go to exert pressure where necessary.
- Commercial association management software for large associations is not something that small companies can effectively deal with. Large associations understand this. Creating the software is expensive and requires a large install base and large staff just to make the ROI work.
- Association staff may pay with their job if their decision on what software to buy is not correct. Remember when companies bought IBM machines and software because they could never be criticized if they did so? The same is still true today. Large associations buy software from well-known established companies. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the implementation will run smoothly but makes it easier to justify later.
- Reporting is vital to large associations. There are a number of aspects to this. Not only do the large associations need a large set of “standard reports”, to be successful, they need the ability to do effective ad hoc queries and reporting to adequately analyze the business particularly trends in membership and sales. Database structures that support good ad hoc reporting are by nature complex and the tools must be able to deal and hide (where possible) that complexity. Next week I’ll do a post on complex reporting from simple database structures. There is no free lunch!
So…though I have been impressed with what you can do with open source software for smaller associations. I just can’t believe that it will work for the large group.