Are Associations Being Taken Advantage Of?

There’s a lot of money in the association space, especially when it comes to helping associations connect their members online. The biggest example of this might be the recent Community Brands merger, bringing together three software companies that collectively serve more than 13,000 associations and nonprofits.

Association veteran Maggie McGray recently sounded the alarm on a big problem: Associations themselves, especially small staff associations, are the ones left holding the bag right now. Association software companies and consultants, including those from the community space who saw the money, might be doing well, but small staff associations are highly vulnerable to unexpected costs.

Many of them don’t even have one full-time person focusing on their online community and membership efforts, let alone have development resources or space in their budget after already investing in these expensive software solutions, and often training, consultants and conferences to go with it. Are associations being taken advantage of, and taken for granted? We discuss:

  • The lack of in-house community and association talent at association software vendors, as compared to their large sales teams
  • Software vendors who used to pitch their solutions as an all-in-one that are now backing away from that
  • What association management software companies should do from here

Big Quotes

“From the association staff point of view, there’s a lot of frustration with the shortcomings of [association management software] and them being built by people who’ve never run an association. It’s a software platform and a suite of functionality that has been sold for the past 20 or so years in the association space as basically, ‘If you’re an association, you need this to run your business on.’ They’ve continued to add in the bells and whistles and upsell it as, ‘You want to be all in on this.’ It’s sort of like the entire industry is beholden to this technology to the tune of anywhere from hundreds of thousands to several million to $20 million. A lot of money. Especially when you’re talking about the enterprise versions that are customized out and a lot of consultants involved in that. We’ve all bought into it. We’re all beholden to these companies.” -@maggielmcg

“[Software vendors] are making a bunch of money, and they can hire a bunch of sales people and stock up. The associations, your budget is limited. Your resources are limited. Each one of these [software] changes impacts your bottom line, your staff morale, your ability to do other things, your ability to serve members. It’s really a very significant impact. There’s such a disconnect. … I’ve talked to a lot of friends offline about this deal. They’re like, ‘If I have to go back to my board and explain… I just spent two years getting buy-in for this system … if I have to now go back to them in a year and say that we need to switch again because something happened, I’m going to lose my job.'” -@maggielmcg

“The problem is that association execs are the ones who are in charge of the platform selection. It’s usually either lead by IT or it’s lead by C-level. It’s pretty much never, ever lead by – it’s usually not even informed by – anybody who understands what an online community is, how it functions, what functionality you need to have.” -@maggielmcg

“At least in the for-profit world, whether it’s a user community, whether it’s a brand community, there’s people in marketing. There’s people in customer service. There’s people at a high enough level who are at that table, so if the company is considering investing in a software platform for that, obviously, they want to go to the internal expert who understands what you’re trying to gain from this. In the association world, you don’t have that at all. It’s a software purchase that then is sold as, ‘You just buy this, and it’s magic. It’s member engagement, and you don’t need anybody. You just buy the software and… community!'” -@maggielmcg

About Maggie McGary

Maggie McGary is social media manager at the American Psychological Association (APA). She has spent more than 15 years in the association world in various marketing and communications roles. Maggie is a frequent presenter at association and industry conferences on the topics of social media and digital communications best practices, as well as a blogger whose guest posts have been featured in numerous publications including The Washington Post and Social Media Today.

She is a member of The Community Roundtable and has been blogging/presenting about community management and social media for the past decade. Maggie is also one of the organizers of’s Community Manager Appreciation Day celebration.

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