Advantages of Association Platforms

What is an association software platform?

An association platform is an integrated suite of association-specific business solutions built on the systems and architecture of a world class, true cloud business platform like Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics 365. That definition might sound familiar—but it contains nuances that distinguish it significantly from the proprietary association management software (AMS) that you might have now.

Association software has evolved—and your association can too. Explore the sections of this guide to learn more about the strategic and practical advantages of association software platforms.

What Is the Difference Between Association Platforms and an AMS?

To understand the differences and advantages of association platforms, start with this key idea:

In an association platform, the business software solutions are natively built on a leading enterprise-class cloud platform.


An association platform is NOT:
  • A set of individual components that are custom-stitched together to cover all your bases
  • A proprietary software solution that’s merely hosted in the cloud
Instead, true association platforms are purposely built to enable all the software elements to work together—simply and elegantly.
Compare association management solutions

In the past decade, most associations have adopted association management software (AMS) solutions that help organize applications and manager operations. However, as legacy systems age, they acquire a patchwork of integrations and customizations that becomes increasingly complex and difficult to maintain.

Associations that struggle to keep these systems up to date face increased recurring costs for licensing, data synchronization, and integration upkeep.

On-Premises Cloud-Hosted True Cloud Platform
Architecture Local Server

Single tenant: Software is installed on local hardware and applications are hosted on a server owned by the association.

Local VPN

Single tenant: Software is installed on Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS); applications accessed through a virtual private network (VPN) or a browser.


Multi-tenant: Software resides in the cloud and serves users across locations and roles who access it through a web browser. No local installation or dedicated hardware is needed.

Licensing Owned License Model

Association purchases per-seat licensing upfront and pays annual maintenance and upgrade fees.

Owned License or SaaS

Many cloud-hosted solutions have moved to a subscription payment model, although they may still require fees for upgrades.

SaaS Subscription

Because software resides only in the cloud, a predictable subscription covers all updates, patches, and maintenance; no additional fees are needed.

Software Updates and Maintenance Manual

Software updates are implemented manually and require planned downtime.


Software updates are implemented manually and require planned downtime.


Software updates happen automatically with minimal downtime and no disruption to operations. All users have immediate access to new features and functionality.

Extensibility/Scalability Custom

Addition of features and functionality is limited; changes or additions require custom development and integrations.


Limited extensibility, changes tend to be custom and integrations must be individually and manually checked at each upgrade cycle to avoid failures.


Easily and quickly extensible through platform-supported APIs and connectors. Integrations through the platform ecosystem are not typically affected by updates.

Security Association IT

Association staff must ensure security of the AMS as well as integrated third-party software.

Software Provider & Association IT

Software provider maintains security of the software in the cloud, but association IT staff must ensure endpoint and integration.

Centralized & Cloud Based

Software security is in the cloud platform environment; association IT/administrators control data access through role-based rules and centralized policies.

Total Cost of Ownership High Maintenance Cost

Over time, costs increase as system becomes overbuilt and complex.

High Maintenance Cost

Similar to on-premises solutions, costs rise as the system must be maintained over all hardware installations.

Predictable & Stable

Subscription covers software, user access, updates, and maintenance; additional costs are transparent and can be budgeted.

Full lifecycle association business operations

True cloud association platform solutions give you access to essential features and capabilities out of the box to support your critical business functions:

  • Membership Management
  • Accounting
  • Marketing
  • Event Planning and Management
  • Exhibit Management and Programming
  • Education
  • Fundraising
  • Sponsorship Management
  • E-commerce
  • Analytics

And because these association solutions have been developed inside of the well-supported ecosystems on the top cloud business platforms they are highly adaptable and scalable. Your business can easily incorporate a wide range of native applications and partner solutions so that your technology can keep pace with your association.

How Does Your Current AMS Compare?

If your association is operating with a proprietary AMS, you may want to know whether that current system is going to be viable for the future of your association.

Take our quiz and get instant visibility to determine:

  • Whether you are currently getting the benefits of the true cloud
  • Where your biggest technology limitations lie
  • How prepared your association resources are to keep up with technology changes now and in the future
Take the Quiz

Why Move to a True Cloud Association Platform?

Because keeping up with technological change is painful and costly. This is why organizations often put off upgrades or changes to their systems.

If this sounds like your association, you may be struggling to operate with an outgrown legacy system that no longer fits your needs.

Where will your AMS be in 10 years?

“The average replacement lifecycle for an AMS used to be about 5 years; now, it's between 7 and 10 years. It's impossible to keep up with technology changes over that span of time - without the backing and investment of a global platform technology leader.”
Jake Fabbri, Togetherwork
Signs it’s time to upgrade your AMS
Overly complicated customizations

You’ve been extending the existing system by means of complex, proprietary and high-maintenance customizations that are both inefficient and costly.

Siloed systems and data

Function-specific systems are not talking to each other, so teams can’t get complete visibility into operations. Workflows are hampered by numerous redundant tasks and manual workarounds that are required to ensure information is added and updated accurately across systems.

Overwhelming system maintenance and upgrade processes

Every time an update is issued—even to just one system or module—all embedded connections and customizations must be updated and tested to ensure the whole system doesn’t break down.

What are your goals?

Through the proven power of the true cloud platform, automated updates, and native application integrations, your association will be ready to respond and innovate—no matter what the future brings.

No more worry about keeping up with the latest technology updates. No more costly custom add-ons to your AMS. No more pressure to rip and replace your AMS every few years.

You simply get an association business solution that grows and changes with you—and promotes positive business outcomes.

Control costs and risk

Transparent, subscription pricing and software-as-a-service implementation models give associations the ability to establish an accurate, predictable budget and reduce unforeseen costs.

Optimally integrate applications and modules

In a true association platform, all the components are purpose-built to work together and natively leverage the power of the world’s top enterprise platform ecosystems for easy adaptability and scalability. This means that your technology systems work for you and will grow with your association.

Stop the tech-replacement cycle

Instead of building piecemeal onto your AMS—or ripping and replacing it every few years—automated updates seamlessly enhance system features and capabilities, ensuring you are always using the latest, most advanced technology available. No downtime, no added costs, no strain on your IT team.

What Are the Benefits of Using an Association Platform?

When you unify siloed and separated data and applications in a true association platform, you gain immediate, tangible benefits.

Total data visibility

Member and business data is stored in a single, centralized location and accessible in real time through a browser-based interface.

Enhanced collaboration

When all your team members see the same information in real time, you can standardize processes, share insights, and make better decisions.

Instant access to the latest features and functionality

By using agile practices, major platform providers deliver ongoing feature enhancements, fixes, software updates, and security patches automatically, instantly, and without interrupting operations.

Choose a true cloud platform instead of a proprietary or cloud-hosted software and get greater long-term value from your association platform investment.
Extensibility through configurations, not customizations

Critical capabilities are built in and stable, while API-based software integrations let you extend the capabilities of your system without costly customizations.

Direct cost savings

The SaaS model eliminates the upfront costs of licensing and ongoing costs of software maintenance.


You control what happens in your environment, from adding and removing users to establishing rules and privacy settings, enforcing policies, and more.

Built-in security

Gain true cloud protection with the globally trusted, real-time security of the top enterprise business cloud providers.

Who Needs a Platform Solution for Association Management?

Any organization that needs to ensure resilience and adaptability should consider an association platform. Ignoring the imperative need for digital transformation has implications for all the stakeholders in an association.

What they expect:

A seamless experience across all interactions with the association—just as they get with any online site or service.

What they expect:

Technology needs to make their jobs easier, not harder.

What they expect:

Accurate, meaningful data in a context that helps them make decisions today and supports exploration of potential alternatives.

Donors, Partners, and Sponsors
What they expect:

Visibility and ROI from their investments is key to continued support of your association.


If your association can’t provide the technology experience they are accustomed to, they find it elsewhere. They’ll look to public and private competitors to find the educational resources, events and networking connections they seek.


Without integrated and intuitive tools, your teams will always be stuck in reactive mode. They’ll end up spending all their time putting out fires and fixing problems—with little bandwidth left over for strategy, innovation and leadership.


Without those insights, leaders may make decisions based on gut instinct or past experience—and that can limit the organization’s ability to stay at the forefront of their industry.


Without timely insights and meaningful results, these key financial supporters are less likely to continue the relationship.

Digital transformation and a focus on customer experience can generate a 20-30% increase in customer satisfaction and economic gains of 20-50%.


How to Choose an Association Platform: Key Considerations

When you’re ready to break away from the status quo, start your search with a fresh look at your most critical considerations.

How do you want to use your IT resources?

You may feel comfortable knowing that your IT team has direct control over every aspect of your current proprietary AMS. But consider what might change if you freed your IT staff from endless software maintenance, security, and data management tasks.


  • Does my organization have a knowledgeable IT staff with the time to support, update, and secure an on-premises solution?
  • Can we afford the upfront costs and maintenance fees associated with a hosted solution?
  • How important are up-to-date features and functionality to my staff and members?
  • How much data will we require our new solution to store?
  • Does my organization want to pay for every module of a solution, or have the flexibility to select modules?
  • Would my organization benefit most from a true cloud solution or software in a hosted delivery model?
What are your requirements?

Your association may use a Request for Proposal (RFP) to invite vendors to bid on your software project. An RFP offers numerous benefits to your internal teams as well, providing a methodical and organized approach to inviting input, innovation, and inclusivity into your process.


  • What are your selection criteria?
  • What makes your organization unique? Include staff/member size, mission, current technology, types of members, and more.
  • What problems do you need this system to solve?
  • What is the scope of this project?
  • What are your stakeholders’ must-have requirements?
  • What is the budget for your project?
  • What is the timeline for your project?
Do you need a consultant?

You and your internal stakeholders know your association better than anyone. But to break free of established conventions, you may want to consider working with an experienced association technology professional who will challenge existing conventions and recommend software that will provide the best fit for your association.


  • What were your last five software recommendations and how many were true cloud solutions?
  • What problems did the associations have and how did your recommended solutions solve them?
  • How (if at all) did the organization change their business practices to work with the new software?
  • Will you assist in the implementation as an agent of the organization?
What are your selection criteria?

Once you’ve covered your global business concerns, define your selection criteria.


  • Can the solution adapt and scale for your future needs?
  • Will the company you choose be with you over the long term?
  • Will your provider be a partner that’s available to you throughout the full lifecycle of your relationship?
  • Can you get the majority of your requirements out of the box? How difficult are integrations?
  • Clearly understand total cost of ownership. What are you paying for and will your ongoing costs be predictable?

Where Do I Start?

Get expert help from highly experienced professionals to build your roadmap to transformation.

Help Me Select

What Are the Top Association Platforms?

Pivoting operations into a fully virtual world has helped organizations realize the critical need for a solution that supports business continuity through a predictable, stable platform. At the same time, that platform must enable rapid responses to change, innovation and disruption.

Fonteva and Protech have brought the top association platforms—Salesforce and Microsoft—to the association market and are uniquely positioned to provide expert guidance and advice on both solutions.

Are you interested in a platform-based approach for your association? was created as a place for associations to learn about Association Platforms in an unbiased and association-success focused environment, while determining the best platform option for their organization.

Let’s explore both association platform options and figure out whether Salesforce or Microsoft will best meet the needs of your association and your members.

Top-rated Software Built on Salesforce
Leading Microsoft-based Association Software

Ready to Get Started?

Learn how to make your case and build momentum for your association platform transformation.

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