You’ve chosen Salesforce. Whether you go “packaged” or “native” depends on just how much customization your association requires.

In the old days of software selection, the biggest decision was often whether companise were going to buy a packaged solution to deploy or build the application by hiring code talent. Those days are gone now. Now that most software is delivered as a service and interoperability abounds, there are two primary options.

  • To go with a “packaged” application that delivers most of the functionality for you with a little bit of configuration; or

  • To select a “native” platform that provides a big share of the feature set and then build custom functionality on top of that.

In part one of this series, I shared five things you ought to know about Salesforce for association management. That article explained the multiple benefits of choosing Salesforce as a foundation for managing the many aspects of the relationship you have with your members. I also profiled Fonteva, a Salesforce partner that has built a packaged application on top of Salesforce for handling the other aspects of your organization, such as e-commerce, online event management, community participation and membership engagement. Fonteva’s solution could be called a “branded” application because it delivers association management and you can extend it further by “plugging in” extensions that you choose from the Salesforce AppExchange or Fonteva’s own App Marketplace. Nimble is another popular branded application that works with Salesforce too.

The terms “branded” and “native” come from the content world. Native content is meant to promote and sell specific products; branded content is meant to provoke an emotional response and thereby build the brand. Each has its place, and neither is better than the other. Why is a product like Fonteva or Nimble considered branded? Because users are immersed in the experience those companies set up for you. They wrap association users into a blanket of usability that protects them from having to understand the nuances of working with Salesforce. They don’t even need to worry about having Salesforce licenses; it’s encompassed within the licensing they sell. Fonteva and Nimble and other branded solutions meet the vast majority of requirements needed by associations and just happen to be built on Salesforce.

However, some associations don’t need that level of protection. They may be large enough to have the expertise on staff to wield Salesforce in whatever direction they choose. These organizations want to take a platform that handles a lot of the lifting, but then customize it in their own mold. They may, in fact, already be using Salesforce in some part of the association. They prefer to go native.

Fortunately, the Salesforce market is large enough to accommodate both kinds of approaches.

A Ton of Momentum

Mark Patterson, CEO of Fíonta, explains that the choice between developing a native solution or going with a packaged or branded application really has to do with “how closely the business model and the requirements match what those products offer.” As he notes, if your requirements extend too far beyond the “standard functionality” or you need significant customizations that are costly to program in the branded offering, “you may be better off going with native Salesforce.” The reason: Any time the packaged solution is upgraded, you’ll likely need to revisit the customizations to bring them up to date too, which will increase overall cost of ownership. Choosing native from the beginning allows you to set your own timetable for making those updates and refreshing your application.

The advantages of choosing Salesforce in either flavor are numerous. “There’s just a ton of momentum behind it,” Mark says.


“The partner network is vast. There are literally thousands of Salesforce partners, both independent software vendors creating products and system integrators offering services. Many companies do both. So, if you ever need anything, you’re going to find it, and you can rest assured that Salesforce will be here for a long time and continue to benefit from innovation.”

Fionta, for example, helps associations implement branded solutions such as Fonteva and also builds out Salesforce as native solutions when they need features not found in a box: fundraising and grant management, marketing automation; event sales, sponsorship and exhibit sales; and other operations not provided in the packaged software.

SEA Change Chooses Native

One of Web Courseworks’ clients, the sizable organization has some 140,000 members worldwide and serves as a leading publisher of research through its Science family of journals. While the organization has long been involved in educational efforts around the world, an especially ambitious initiative seeks to make long-term systemic changes in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, math and medicine) education. In 2020, SEA Change was launched, drawing in a dozen institutions as pilot members in a program for making diversity, equity and inclusion an embedded component — not an add-on — of STEMM education.

While Salesforce was already in use within the organization in several divisions, the SEA Change project team eventually chose Salesforce as well — in a native approach — to manage the members and the program. That installation, which involved consulting from Fíonta, includes Web Courseworks CourseStage serving as the learning management system.


What the Future Holds for the Legacy AMS

The power of Salesforce is having a big influence on the association management system market, according to Mark. He envisions multiple scenarios playing out for associations and the software they choose to use.

  • The largest, most complex associations will choose a platform — either Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics CRM (the other major player in the platform space) — and develop a native custom solution on top of it.
  • Small-staff organizations (those with revenues under $2 million or so) will continue to choose a software-as-a-service application (SaaS) that allows for minimal customization and provides the most basic functionality they need to maintain and grow their operations.
  • Mid to large-sized organizations will choose a packaged application that’s already built on top of a platform, such as Fonteva or Nimble, which will get them to the finish line faster.
  • Some organizations with straightforward needs may find it cost-effective to assemble a native solution using Salesforce components combined with applications readily available on the AppExchange including an e-store and event registration.

What about standard association management solutions on hosted, single database-per-customer architectures? Mark calls the best-known programs “legacy.” In the new world order, “they’ll suffer the most because they’re going after the most sophisticated buyers, and those are the organizations that are starting to look at platform-first strategies,” he says.

How to Make Your Decision

Mark follows a basic guideline when he’s advising organizations on which route to follow: “If the packaged solution meets 70% of the associations’s requirements, I would absolutely go with them. The ‘time to live’ is going to be shorter and they’re going to get most of what they need without building it from scratch. I’m a big fan of those products when the association doesn’t have to customize it too much,” he explains. After all, he adds, in the case of Fonteva “there are big things you get out of it, such as an accounting and invoicing system, an events app, and an e-store where you can sell memberships, events, research articles, even T-shirts. You have a full catalog you can just add products to.”

For other organizations that want more flexibility and agility, even they don’t have to code from scratch. They can go to the Salesforce AppExchange, find the functionality they need and plug it in. “Need events management? Go to the AppExchange and buy it,” Mark says. “You’re given the flexibility to assemble whatever you need. Even better,” he notes, “many extensions are offered for free from Salesforce. They come with your licensing.”

Ultimately, the decision involves an education process, says Mark. “We tell associations, look, when you buy Fonteva or native Salesforce you’re just not solving this one problem. You can lay out a 10-year roadmap to centralize everything around one platform and data model and a smaller set of vendors to work with. Plus, you get the agility you need to swap things out as you need to with this vast network of partners that can help you do it. And that message resonates.”

Learn more about Salesforce here and the nonprofit division of Salesforce here.

Learn more about Fíonta here.

Contact Web Courseworks today to start planning your next virtual conference for associations.