Where can I go searching for a volunteer non-executive board member?
January 9, 2014 10:12 AM   Subscribe

My small business needs an independent 3rd party to keep a weather eye on us and ensure we stop slacking. Where should I go looking to find someone experienced who could give us 2 hours of their time every month for next-to-do nothing?

My three business partners and I run a very small health-care clinic in London, UK. Among other issues, we've realised that we are bad at completing our to-do list, since we're all friends and not great at holding each other to account. A business advisor recently suggested we need an independent 3rd party who attends our monthly meetings and asks the awkward questions like "why didn't you get all your actions done?" and "pretend I have no idea what you're talking about, persuade me why this is a good strategy" etc etc.

We also need someone who can guide us through a brief business planning phase, wherein we discuss our long-term goals for the business and our commitment to achieving them. Their role here would be as Devil's advocate and sounding-board rather than outright business advisor.

In a larger business, this is among the roles of the non-executive directors.

Our problem: cash. We can barely afford to pay ourselves at the moment. Ideally we'd be looking for someone who can donate 2 hours of their time once a month. A token fee (crate of wine at the end of the year?) is the most we could offer.

Our ideal candidate will be experienced (rather than e.g. a business school student); unknown to all of us (to avoid bias or accusations thereof); affable; and confident enough to command respect and question us. Ideally they'd be able to meet physically London one evening per month, although Skype is also an option. A year would be an ideal period, although 3 or 4 months would be fine.

I appreciate that the obvious solution is that we forget this and simply pull our collectives fingers out and kick ourselves into shape, but if that was going to happen it would have done by now.

An obvious place to start looking is our social and business networks, but again that may lead to a biased relationship. We'll pursue that route, but if anyone has any other suggestions they'd be gratefully received. Should I hunt around business schools to see any faculty have spare time? Where do semi-retired business folks hang out?
posted by ajp to Work & Money (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
How about SCORE? Sorry, missed the London, UK part. Do you have a similar thing in the UK?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:33 AM on January 9, 2014

I think your best bet if you must have a 3rd party might be to reach out to student groups at colleges and see if anyone wants to use you guys to practice their management skills. I was on the executive board of a college club, and one of the things that ALL of us needed to get better at was being more assertive and holding each other accountable for our group goals. I say see if a college kid would do it because the experience and resume line item might be enough for them. Anyone with any actual experience doing this is going to want to get paid. This is why consultants exist.

An off the wall suggestion that might provide just enough oomph for your group is to make an accountabilibuddy effigy for your office. You could go buy a grumpy-looking stuffed animal or print out a poster sized picture of a disapproving mom, whatever. Something. This accountabilibuddy would have a box of cards next to it. On each card you would print one of your tough questions. Every few days, the three of you go to the box, draw a card, and answer the question to your accountabilibuddy.

You could also do what we did in our office when we were a startup with just a few people. By noon on Monday you send an email to everyone in your work group stating your goals for the week. By 3pm on Friday you send an email to everyone in your work group stating what you ACTUALLY accomplished that week and what, if you didn't meet all your goals, kept you from meeting them. Writing it down helps you hold yourself accountable.
posted by phunniemee at 10:35 AM on January 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

I agree with phunniemee, can you reach out to local business schools (graduate programs perhaps) and see if they have some kind of consulting club/class that would provide student volunteers?
posted by radioamy at 11:18 AM on January 9, 2014

Look to someone you know. I'm on the board of a start-up, and my relationship with the company started because they had a similar need. I knew the CEO/Founder from past work. They wanted someone who would spend two hours a week with them giving guidance and keeping them on track and holding them accountable. I took an equity stake in the company in trade, but no salary/rate, etc.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 11:56 AM on January 9, 2014

I second RuthlessBunny's excellent advice to look at SCORE. Here in the US, SCORE and the Small Business Administration's SBDCs (Small Business Development Centers) are great for finding mentors and professional services (accountants, lawyers, planning). It looks like the FSB is the closest thing going in the UK. Having said that, it also looks more for-profity than SCORE and SBDC.

I think if you search SCORE for the specific type of assistance you need help with - i.e. what your business is about - you'll find several people who are open to mentoring folks over email. You might email them and see if they can help or if they know of a good organization in the UK where you might look further.

I also want to recommend the book "Who's Got Your Back", which I think is about developing, more generally, the type of relationship you're seeking to have with this business advisor - Who's Got Your Back.
posted by mitschlag at 12:09 PM on January 9, 2014

Best answer: I would not ask a current B-school student to this - you are looking for someone with the experience to ask the right question and the gravitas to make you listen.

Aside from your own network, find someone associated with a likely business school and ask them how to reach out to alumni (including possibly retired or semi-retired alums). For my alma mater, there is a bulletin-board type email list where someone who is a member could post a request on your behalf and there are also educational talks (pick one related to health care) where you could attend and mingle with B-school alumni and do some networking of your own. Find someone who graduated from your local school who could let you know what might work for you.

Finally you need to think about what would be in it for this other person. If you are a nonprofit, the community service aspect might convince them to volunteer. If this is a for-profit, why should they volunteer their time to help you make money? Maybe this could be an audition for board membership? You'll want outside board members (assuming you don't have any yet) and they are often compensated with stock rather than cash like NotMyselfRightNow above.
posted by metahawk at 3:23 PM on January 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

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