A Carefully Constructed Plan Plays out Perfectly

Years of preparation and focus lead Johnson to new role as UNCA board chair, Families International board member

One could say that Rudolph A. Johnson III has been training for board leadership his entire adult life.

“I knew at an early age that I wanted to be involved in making a difference in the community,” he says.

He adds, “One of the things I thought about when I sat on my first board, probably at the age of 23, was that I needed to begin learning my policy, role, and voice if I wanted to be of assistance to the community from the inside out. I knew that by sitting on one board at a young age that it would lead to the next board, and the next board, and eventually I was going to get to a place in which I could pick and choose the board that I wanted to be involved in. That was a strategy I laid out about 20 years ago.”

Today Johnson is chair of the United Neighborhood Centers of America (UNCA) Board of Directors, a position he assumed in December for a 2-year term. He is also a new member of the board of Families International, the parent company for both UNCA and the Alliance for Children and Families.

His full-time job is serving as president and CEO of UNCA member Neighborhood House Association, San Diego.

National Board Service Provides Wider Focus

When Johnson became president and CEO of Neighborhood House Association nearly four years ago, two of his goals were to put the organization in the position to be a national model organization and to establish the organization’s national “place and presence.”

To achieve these goals, the organization needed to be in the same “think tank” as the leaders setting national policy, he says. “Sitting on national boards has tuned my focus on national policy and it has allowed Neighborhood House Association, as an organization, to have a greater voice nationally on policy issues as they relate to building healthier communities.”

Another benefit is the 360-degree view of what other organizations are doing, both in and outside similar lines of business.

“Personally, these experiences have made me a stronger leader in general, and a better board member all around,” Johnson says. “I am bringing a lot of best practices picked up from the UNCA and Families International boards to the local boards I serve.”

Johnson has been active on numerous local boards during the past 20 years, including the San Diego Urban League, InRoads, Union Bank Customer Advisory Board, and the City of San Diego Black Employees Association. Prior to be being named president and CEO of Neighborhood House Association, he was a member of its board as well. He currently serves on the board of Planned Parenthood of San Diego.

Board Members Have Specific Role

Johnson believes that the first and foremost responsibility of board members is their fiduciary duty. “You have to take your fiduciary responsibility very seriously because at the end of the day, as the board, you are going to be held accountable for the results within that area.”

All board members must make sure that integrity, ethics, and clean financial management are part of the daily practice, he says. The board is entrusted to use the organization’s funds in way the general public, donor community, and foundations are expecting; and the board must always remember that it is responsible for ensuring how services are delivered.

Johnson also advises board members to understand the fine line between policymaking and operations. Board members should allow the CEO or executive director to focus on operations, while the board focuses on policy and overall direction of the organization.

Finally, he says board members needs to assist the CEO or executive director in bringing resources and capital to the agency; this can be in monetary, human resources, or technical forms.

“I am richer professionally because of the global view I have of how other organizations are functioning,” Johnson says. “But I also believe that the best is yet to come.” 


Learn more about Neighborhood House Association.

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