Hacks for Governing SSP Boards and Board Governance

By-Law Requirements of Boards of Directors

Legally, an organization’s bylaws govern the internal mechanics of democratic decision making in organizations. This includes the following:

  • Term limits – how long members can serve.
  • Quorum – how many members must be present for a binding decision to be made.
  • Qualifications for membership – who can serve on the board. This may include specifications for credentials, lived experience, etc.
  • Qualifications for discharge from membership – reasons a member might be discharged from service.
  • Meeting guidelines – this includes the meeting times, dates, and locations (for example “meetings will take place on the third Wednesday of the month at 6pm at the offices of Generic SSP”).
  • Community agreements about behavior in meetings.

Boards legally must maintain three core officers:

  • President – responsible for board function
  • Treasurer – responsible for financial oversight of the organization
  • Secretary – responsible for records of board activities and decisions, maintained in accordance with the law

Board members are legally and financially liable for the organization and can be sued for the activities of the organization. Because of this, officers must abide by the following duties:

Duty of Care – Board members must give the same care and concern to board responsibilities as “any prudent and ordinary person” would. This means board members should be actively participating in board meetings and on committees. It also means that they should be actively working with other board directors to advance the organization’s mission and goals.

Duty of Loyalty & Duty to Recuse – Board members must place the interests of the organization ahead of their own interests. It also means publicly disclosing any conflicts of interests and not using board service as a means for personal or commercial gain by recusing themselves from decisions that may benefit them, which is also known as the duty to recuse.

Duty of Obedience – Board members agree to abide by all applicable criminal and civil laws and other regulations, and to ensure that the organization doesn’t engage in illegal or unauthorized activities.

Duty of Transparency – More recently courts and other legal arbiters have increasingly cited what amounts to the “duty of transparency” of boards of Non-Profit Organizations (NPOs). This means that their activities and decisions, and the finances of the organization, should be readily available. This is a legal requirement in most jurisdictions.

In addition, and because of these duties, board members of nonprofits are also legally required to:

  • Maintain and uphold the bylaws.
  • Only make decisions in accordance with the quorum (number of members enfranchised to vote) required by the bylaws.
  • Keep meeting minutes, which must include records of:
    • Tax filings
    • Bookkeeping records
    • Audited financial statements (the Board is responsible for making sure the ED or fiscal staff gets all required audits)

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.
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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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