Whether you’ve gone through this process before or it’s your first time, software selection takes a careful evaluation process to ensure you don’t make mistake. Choosing the right software is an important decision. It costs your association time, money, and your staff and members will be affected by the one you choose.

But how do you know which association software is right for you?

Association Software Evaluation Criteria

Each platform has its pros and cons. And it’s up to you to determine what features are the most important for your association. So, what are the most important evaluation criteria when choosing membership software?

1. Cloud or On-Premise – You want membership software that lives in the cloud. It’s 2016, and the days of on-premise software are going the way of the dinosaurs. Cloud software helps you maintain lower tech overhead, as the software provider takes on the responsibility of updating the platform.

2. Customization – Typically, you’ll find that customization comes with added costs. This is a huge problem. The whole reason you purchase membership software is to make management easier, and customization is how you get your software built specifically to your needs, and around your existing processes. Otherwise, you’ll be forced to create workaround, call tech support on a weekly basis, or you’ll just end up angry and frustrated. Find a solution that includes proper setup to get the platform working to your needs. Great association software should be able to function or improve your processes right out of the box. Ones that require heavy customization most likely are outdated platforms.

3. Focus on Pain Points – Before evaluating which software criteria you need, first identify your pain points to determine what’s a must-have vs just a like-to-have.

4. Membership Management – The first feature based criteria that I like to evaluate for membership software are the member management features. These are the areas that help automate things for your staff, which focuses on one of your key pain points. You’ll want to look for automated membership renewals, custom fields, 360-degree member view (summary of a member’s activity, groups, etc), reporting, political districting, foundation contributions, and more.

5. Member Engagement – Looking for new ways to engage members, get them to sign up for more events, or purchase  learning course? There are several features you’ll be interested in, but also don’t be afraid of taking a best-of-breed approach. The best association management software should be able to integrate with all of the other best-in-class tools like MailChimp, cVent, etc. If a membership software provider can’t integrate, then that’s a sign that they aren’t thinking for modern associations.

6. SEO friendly and Customizable Websites – I like how certain AMS providers have created key templates to choose from. Building websites is something that people like to overcomplicate. Yes, you may want different branding and images but most websites tend to use similar styles in general based on industry trends and needs. Identify if you can get away with a template because it can save you quite bit on costs and make your life significantly easier. The big thing to look for is SEO features. You’ll need customizable URLs (not redirects), meta description and title optimization, and more.

7. Integrated Website and AMS – Building your website through your AMS provider is a must. The biggest reason why is visibility. When both are completely integrated you can then see what pages, courses and events your members like most, which enables you to continuously create content that they’ll find engaging.

8. Accounting and Dues Billing – If you can’t accept dues or payment, then you’ll find yourself in a mess of trouble. Look for easy invoicing, recurring billing, cash and accrual accounting, Quickbooks Import/Export, batch reporting and reconciliation, complete audit trails, and secure refunds and adjustments.

9. Online learning – Whether you want to manually build and manage every facet of your learning programs yourself, or if you prefer a fully managed LMS, you’ll need some coverage here. Online learning programs give your association opportunities for non-dues revenue. If you plan on doing learning programs then find a membership solution that has this functionality built-in, so that you’re able to easily track member activity and engagement.

10. Mobile – 80% of the population are using smartphones. Your membership website and tools increasingly need to be ready for mobile use. If a membership software provider hasn’t already transitioned most of their product to mobile, then that should be a red flag.

11. Scalability – The last thing you want is to choose software based on what’s perfect for you now, and find that 1 year from now you have to go through the entire process all over again. Don’t just plan for the present, but make sure that your software has the ability to scale with future needs such as users, members, email marketing, accounting functionality, and reporting.

12. Pricing – This is often a point that associations focus the most on, but sometimes what appears to be the cheapest option today, won’t be the cheapest tomorrow. Price should never be the sole factor in your purchasing decision. Here’s why: Spending more today may save you more money replacing your software in the long run. However, beware of organizations that don’t provide clear, upfront pricing. These company’s tend to try and increase price based on your revenue. Also, beware of organizations that charge you for upgrades and maintenance.

13. Security – Your member’s data is valuable. The las thing you want if for that data to be compromised or exposed. Make sure that your provider has security protocols and features to ensure membership data is stored safely.

These are some of the most important software evaluation criteria for purchasing membership software. As long as you’re not blinded by flashy features or get too caught up with costs, you can evaluate the features that are most important for your association