SSP Basic Fiscal Structure and Process Hacks

This section has 9 hacks in it.
“Creativity is great – but not in accounting.”
Charles Scott
The following are the very basics an organization will need for adequate bookkeeping. This is by no means an exhaustive list and you are strongly encouraged to work with a financial professional to ensure that your accounting meets all regulatory standards.

Defining Your Fiscal Year

One of the first fiscal decisions organizations make is to define their fiscal year. A fiscal year is the one-year period after which an organization must close their books and file taxes.

Picking an Accounting System

The two primary tools that harm reduction leaders reported using the most to track their transactions (money received and money spent) were the Excel spreadsheet and Intel’s Quickbooks.

Choosing Cash vs. Accrual Accounting

You will also need to decide on either cash or what is known as “accrual” accounting. Cash accounting is accounting for transactions at the time payments are made or received. For many small organizations this will be perfectly adequate. However, because there is often a disconnect between when a transaction occurs and when payment is […]

Income and Expense Categories

One of the next decisions organizations will need to make when setting up their accounting system is their expense categories or “chart of accounts”. These are broad categories for accounting that help track income and expenses – they are the basis of accounting.

Creating a Budget

Creating a budget is an essential part of strategic planning for your organization. Budgeting can be challenging for harm reduction organizations because funding is often so dependent on foundation and government grants and contracts, which can radically transform the budget and what an organization is able to do in any given year.

General Notes About Nonprofit Finances

The rules and common parlance of nonprofit finance are mostly the same as any other business, but nonprofits have some specialized language and practices.

Tracking Reimbursements, Petty Cash, and Mileage

One of the things that many leaders said they had heard from financial professionals was that three categories of expenses are especially scrutinized by the IRS: reimbursements, petty cash, and employee mileage.


An audit is an official inspection of an organization’s accounts that is undertaken by an outside party – either a CPA or a tax attorney.

Fiscal Professional Help

Though organizations can do their own bookkeeping and tax filings, it is often both easier and more transparent to hire a professional.

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. 

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