Hacks for Governing SSP Boards and Board Governance

Board Development

There is often a large difference between where leaders would like their Boards to be and where they actually are. In order to make boards more functional, organizations need to put time into board development.

To do this, harm reduction leaders recommended other leaders to:

  • Think about what style of board you want and need – first, think about what you’d actually like to get your board to do – is it fundraising? community relations? basic governance? decide what you need and then…
  • Recruit strategically – pick people for your board who you believe will bring skills or contacts that benefit your participants.
  • Be smart about size – try to pick a number of people for your board that is “right sized”- remember that more people do not always get more done.
  • Do not take people just because you are friends or you respect their work.
  • Do not be intimidated to vet – many harm reduction leaders expressed the importance of vetting people you might ask to put on the board and not simply taking anyone who volunteers. This may even include a formal application and interview process.
  • Express expectations and needs – be clear about the time commitment and let potential board members know exactly what the agency needs.
  • Feel free to say “no, thank you” – it is better to gracefully refuse someone before they have started than to wait until problems arise.

Organization leaders should always:

  • Expect to train board members – about the agency, its history, bylaws, and finances.
  • Seek out development opportunities for board members.

It is especially important to support board members who come from marginalized backgrounds to ensure that they are represented at the table and routinely have a real voice in decision making for organizations that provide them with services.

More Resources

Don’t reinvent the wheel
During our development Harm Reduction Hacks have collected together a large number of resources from around the web you can find these in our resource folder in Google Docs. We are also always looking for more so help us by suggesting any resources we may have missed.
Suggest a Resource

External Resources

Collected from around the web
There are a number of external resources that contributed to the development of Harm Reduction Hacks. Here are a selection relating to this section:


The hacks on this site are shared with you under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International licence. This allows you (with attribution) to adapt content for your own use, although we do ask you to then also allow others to have equal access to anything you develop. More details of this licence can be found on the Creative Commons website.


We do not claim that this is an exhaustive set of strategies, shortcuts, or tips for running an SSP. What we do suggest is that Harm Reduction Hacks offers down-to-earth, practical information for being a better leader, starting and running an SSP, and providing syringe access services. We feel we can say this with confidence because the Hacks are based on interviews with, and the experiences of, literally generations of people who have been doing harm reduction work.

Please note that nothing in this guide should be construed as legal advice. Please consult an attorney local to your area to ensure your program is in compliance with all local, state and federal regulations that apply to your situation. 

Harm Reduction Hacks site design and implimentation by Nigel Brunsdon

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