If you're in the association business, you don't have to think twice about what is your most important asset. It's your members. And how about your most important resource? Would that be your database? Your website? Your staff? Your volunteers? They are all valuable and vital to the success of your association. As it turns out, your most important resource is, yes, your members. So why aren't associations doing more to capitalize on this resource?

When you stop to think about it, there's a good reason why members are your most valuable resource. You're in the relationship business. You're selling "association," belonging, camaraderie, peer approval and recognition.

According to Marketing General Inc.'s 2013 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, association executives state that the top reason members join their organization is — and has been — networking. Of course, members have other reasons and needs for joining, including information resources, continuing education, professional standards or certification, advocacy and so on.

But what makes associations stand out from other types of providers is the feeling of belonging to an identifiable group. Members turn to their association not for the transaction, but for the interaction.

Because you are in the relationship business, you have to work a bit harder not only to show your value but also to build trust. This is where your members come in as your most valuable resource.

If you ask members why they joined a particular association or choose to volunteer with a particular organization, chances are they will tell you it's because someone asked them or invited them — someone who was already a member or volunteer. Embedded in that ask or invitation are two very powerful and persuasive selling points: identity and trust. It takes a member to get, or keep, a member.

In the Marketing General survey, nearly 9 out of 10 (86 percent) of associations said that word of mouth was the most common way members initially discover their association. Again, 8 in 10 (79 percent) said word of mouth was their primary means of raising brand awareness. And more than half (54 percent) said word of mouth was their most effective recruitment tool. In other words, your members are you top sales force, your top marketing team and your top communications channel.

These findings are important to bear in mind, especially in the light of some of the other data in the Marketing General survey report. About three-fourths (74 percent) of the association executives responding to the survey listed "increasing member engagement" and "increasing both membership acquisition and retention" as their top membership goals.

Yet when asked what they were doing to increase member engagement, these same executives said they were boosting their onboarding efforts through email (79 percent), or by mailing a welcome kit (60 percent) or a membership card or certificate (51 percent). Only about 20 percent even mentioned inviting the member to an event where they could meet other members, and only 9 percent mentioned making a phone call — and that was a telemarketing welcome call, not another member calling a new member.

Similarly, only a third of respondents listed their association's website as a top recruitment tool, yet three-fourths said they were investing in their websites to try to increase member engagement. Other tactics included doing more with social media and providing member apps. These are all necessary steps to keep members up-to-date on information, but they won't build engagement or a sense of connectedness to the association. That requires a human touch.

Not all members are going to attend a conference, chapter meeting or other event, but there are other types of social engagement. It's not the event that makes the member, but rather the other way around. It may be enough for a member to associate occasionally with one or two other members to maintain that feeling of belonging. You want to encourage those types of informal interactions among members, not just the formal, branded ones. Make the most of your most important resource.