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If I had a nickel for every time someone said, “I wish our AMS would do...” - I would be filthy rich and build you all custom association management systems. Wouldn’t that be nice?! I’m not sure I have yet to come across an association I’m working with that says “Oh yes, we love our AMS!” If you are someone that loves your AMS, please feel free to share it in the comments and put a plug in for it!
One of our clients has used the same AMS for half a dozen years. It just gets by handling their unique types of memberships, sponsorship and product sales invoicing, CRM needs, and event registrations. It’s definitely grown over the years and we’ve pushed it in various ways to get it to bend to our will - but of course, it will always fall short. Don’t they all?! I think we get so tied into our AMS and we want it to do ALL the things for us, then we get frustrated when it can’t. But those systems are built for the masses; they cannot be everything to everyone.
One of the events this client has put on for years is similar to a “hosted buyer” program. One group of attendees pays to attend, and then a smaller, select/vetted group is invited to attend at no cost. While the paying attendees can come and go as they please, the invited/select attendees are required to fulfill certain obligations, such as attending all education sessions, all networking events, and a minimum number of the social events. For our off-site networking, everyone is required to sign up in advance for their preferred events on each of the two days. They can give us a first and second choice, then I work them into final slots based on a formula of so many from the paying group, and so many from the hosted group. If it were only that simple. People register, pick activities, then change their mind, or cancel outright. Or an activity gets canceled. Or not enough people sign up for it. There’s a lot of movement prior to the event - and of course, additional things come up onsite as well.
Given the steps to access an event registration record and modify it in any way, doing this in their AMS was an absolutely inefficient process. So when I came in to assist, I helped get them to the point of understanding that the association didn’t need to have that all in the AMS. People could still register for the event in the AMS, but when it came time to select activities, we would use an alternative solution that was easier to manage and pull data from.
Enter Smartsheet. No, I don’t get commissions for recommending Smartsheet. I should! I wish I did! Everyone we’ve helped get started in Smartsheet has started slow, dipping their toes in, then about a year into, they’re diving headfirst into different use cases.
I set this particular sheet up so that as people register, I’ll export their basic information from the AMS and easily copy and paste into Smartsheet - name, email address, company. I don’t need EVERYTHING in Smartsheet, but it’s not all that difficult to pull the report and update/overwrite the basic information as long as I’m matching my rows of data from the AMS to Smartsheet. That being said, there is a bit of manual review to that piece but for less than 300 people, it’s not difficult. For a larger group, I likely would want to upgrade and use Smartsheet’s more advanced data features.
From that point, I have captured all attendee registrants. Now in Smartsheet, I can automate emails requesting them to select activities - and automatically reminding them again and again until they do it. Then once each person is assigned their official activities, I have it setup so Smartsheet sends them another notification. Then a bit before the conference, they get a reminder of those activities. We can then pull reports and generate live lists of each activity’s attendees and integrate that into our website and mobile app. Yes, the attendees want to know - NEED to know - who is doing which networking events, so it’s imperative we have a current, up to date list. To generate that in Smartsheet is beyond easy. In the AMS? Attendees couldn’t access that type of report, so prior to Smartsheet, we had to export the data, clean it up in Excel, then load it into the website - loading the file, linking the file, updating the webpage - so people could view it. In Smartsheet, we have complete control over what data about attendees we can let them see, so we are careful to strip out any contact information on those reports. The lists are updated in real-time, and besides one initial setup of the HTML embed code, we don’t ever have to touch it again. It. Is. So. Nice.
This is just one example - and I challenge you to find a use case for your group. What actually needs to live in the AMS? Is there a better tool for managing something about the event? Does that information need to be in the AMS or does it live somewhere else in a more useful manner? What’s easier for the internal staff team? What’s most accessible to the attendees? Of course, in the end, data can get pulled back into the AMS if it’s absolutely necessary, but I would first evaluate - is it really necessary?
Your AMS is hopefully very good at its most important functions/features - whatever that is for your association. When your AMS is lacking something or causing unnecessary steps in the workflow, use other tools to make your process easier. You can always bring data back to the AMS after, but don’t let your AMS prevent you from more efficient and effective workflows!
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