One of the greatest challenges for non-profit services is adapting to the new and varied ways in which the people in your community want and need to access your services. We’re dedicated to helping our clients face those challenges head-on with innovative solutions that help you help your community through the methods that work for them.
One of those solutions is iCarol’s Public Resource Directory (PRD): A feature that takes your iCarol Resource Database and turns it into a public-facing, searchable directory of community services. By taking your internally curated database and placing it online for public access, you’re expanding your reach, helping more people, and accommodating the growing number of individuals who prefer self-service over engaging directly with your specialists.
Late last year we shared with you our plans to refresh the iCarol Public Resource Directory and add some new tools and other enhancements. We’re excited to say that this new version of the PRD has officially launched! When you use this PRD you’ll enjoy:
A built-in Guided Search builder that allows your Resource Specialists to bypass web developers and instead build a guided, graphical search right within the PRD. For more on guided searching, stay tuned to our blog for details on an upcoming webinar on that topic.
Intuitive geographic searching that is easy for your visitors to use. They can simply begin typing in their known geographic location, be it zip/postal code, city, county, or state/province, to produce results that are relevant to their location.
Expanded customization around the look and feel of the PRD using Cascading Style Sheets that allow you to blend the search seamlessly into your website with highly granular control over things like font sizes types and colors, background color, logo integration, and more.
Mobile responsive functionality, delivering a mobile-friendly experience that rivals that of more costly mobile apps and accommodating the many individuals using their mobile phones or other handheld devices as their primary means of accesing the internet.
Relevant search results that improve your clients’ outcomes over what they’d likely experience if they tried to search for helpful resources on their own via a regular internet search engine. When your web visitors search or browse your PRD, they’re benefitting from your expert curation of the resources, reducing their frustration and confusion as they try to address their challenges.
To see some of these benefits in action, check out our video about the Public Resource Directory.
The PRD is available now and we encourage you to contact our Support Team to learn more about the upgrade process. Also stay tuned to our blog for announcements on upcoming webinars that provide further insight on using the PRD.
I’m excited to be attending the upcoming United Way CEO 2-1-1 Summit and Community Leadership Conferences next week in Orlando! Of the many big ideas and opportunities we can advance collectively, some of my favorites are those that contribute to 2-1-1’s operating as a coordinated national network, and that increase our relevance in key areas like social determinants of health. I’m looking forward to formal presentations and “hallway talks” about:
- Deeper engagements with medical and behavioral health entities
- Technology standards to harmonize the distribution of social and human services data to trusted partners
- Coordination of the National Texting Platform
- Greater use of “syndromic survellience” (love that term) to alert our leaders to emerging crises and issues
If these topics are of interest to you too, please let’s make sure we connect in a session or during a break to explore how we can advance 2-1-1’s overall, and your 2-1-1 network in particular, in the near term.
Each year, February 11th is celebrated as 2-1-1 day throughout North America.
2-1-1 is an easy-to-remember three digit number, but unlike 4-1-1 for directory assistance or 9-1-1 for life-threatening emergencies, the focus of 2-1-1 is to provide people with comprehensive information and referral to various human services in their communities.
Rather than spend hours of frustration going it alone calling around to various agencies or surfing the web, help-seekers can make 2-1-1 their first call for assistance and speak to a trained specialist that can spend time evaluating their needs, educating them about resources, and then connect them with the appropriate services. These 2-1-1 agencies widen their reach by making their services available via chat, texting, and integrating their well-curated database of resources into their website. They also build partnerships with other providers by sharing their resource information and making it available to collaborators in a multitude of ways. Of course, iCarol is delighted to help a large percentages of 2-1-1s across Canada and the United States tap into these tools and innovation to help their communities.
iCarol is proud to be working with so many 211 providers whose organizations provide a vital service to their communities by connecting millions of people to essential services each year. If you work at a 2-1-1 and celebrated this day at your helpline, whether it’s just a small occasion or large outreach event, we want to hear from you! Send your stories and photos to so we can feature them on our blog and share your experiences with our readers and recognize your helpline.
Beginning in 2011, when the United States Senate first recognized Information and Referral Services Day, November 16th was designated to raise public awareness and recognize the critical importance of the I&R field.
Every day thousands of people find the help they need quickly, conveniently and free of charge because of Information and Referral (I&R) services. I&R services come in all shapes and sizes, from crisis lines that provide their local community with a core set of human service referrals, to larger scale 2-1-1 centers and statewide 2-1-1 networks providing comprehensive Information and Referral services to entire states or provinces covering many different topics and types of services.
Information and Referral is the art, science and practice of bringing people and services together and is an integral component of the health and human services sector. People in search of critical services such as shelter, financial assistance, food, jobs, or mental health support often do not know where to begin to get help, or they get overwhelmed trying to find what they need. I&R services recognize that when people in need are more easily connected to the services that will help them, thanks to knowledgeable I&R professionals, it reduces frustration and ensures that people reach the proper services quickly and efficiently.
The people who work these lines are consummate professionals who are often times like living, breathing encyclopedias; providing answers to questions ranging from, “Where can I get a free meal for my family” to “There’s a horse running loose in my neighborhood, who do I call?” We at iCarol are really honored to have so many Information and Referral services all across the world use our software to help provide these services to people who reach them via phone, chat, or text.
If you’d like to learn more about what iCarol does to support efficient referral management so you can better connect your clients with resources, check out this page of our website that goes over some of those features. You can also click here to read all of our blogs relevant to I&R and 2-1-1 helplines.
Happy I & R Day, everyone, and kudos on the awesome work you do connecting people with the services they need!
In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, many states in the southeastern United States faced destructive damage including massive flooding.
Here’s the latest from our friends at 2-1-1 in North Carolina:
NC 2-1-1 Provides Resources to NC Residents Affected by Hurricane Matthew
NC residents in all 100 NC counties can dial 2-1-1 from any phone 24/7 for resources
Raleigh, NC – NC Emergency Management has asked NC residents affected by Hurricane Matthew or those wishing to help with disaster relief to dial 2-1-1 for storm related resources. Residents in all 100 counties can dial 2-1-1 from any phone to reach a trained call specialist who can help them find shelters, and learn about evacuation routes, find help with storm clean-up, locate food, water and ice, learn more about volunteer needs and more. The service is available 24/7 in any language and callers will always be connected to a live call specialist trained to assist during disasters.
NC 2-1-1 call specialists are in contact with emergency management personnel and have the most up-to-date information on storm related resources, both during the storm and after. Call specialists can provide evacuation and shelter information, help people find food, water and ice distribution points and storm clean-up information and help, and help people find storm related clean-up help. Call specialists also have information about volunteer and donation needs and can provide that information to callers wishing to help those affected by the storm. NC residents should dial 2-1-1 or 888-892-1162.
In addition to disaster related calls, NC 2-1-1 can help NC citizens find resources for other health and human service needs, such as food, housing, assistance with utilities, job training, information about health care providers, and more year round. All calls are confidential and the service is offered at no cost to North Carolina residents.
NC 2-1-1 is provided to residents in all 100 North Carolina counties by United Way. The service is free, confidential, and available 24/7/365 in any language.
NC 2-1-1 staff shared with us that amidst the challenges of the situation, their service is standing out and being recognized by leadership throughout the state for their availability and outstanding service to their community. The system has proven itself to be a great tool to help citizens in need, and the people reaching them are feeling comforted, and pleasantly surprised, when they reach a live person.
We received a nice note from them in the aftermath of the storm:
“iCarol has served us incredibly well and I am so pleased with how easily I can pull the statistics I need. A big thank you to Mary for helping me pull those saved chart templates together Friday afternoon. The leadership at emergency management has been so impressed with the kind of information we can provide to them with just a few key strokes.” – Heather, NC 2-1-1 Statewide Strategy Director
We’re honored to be NC 2-1-1′s choice of software providers and we’re glad that iCarol has been an instrument to help them help people and produce important data for emergency management personnel, while reducing stress on their staff. Our thoughts continue to be with them and with all the people in the southeast US affected by Hurricane Matthew.
Next week, members of the iCarol team will head to the Texas AIRS (TAIRS) conference in Lubbock, Texas.
You may recall we announced last year that we were chosen to be the software provider for the Texas Information and Referral Network’s 2-1-1 program. Since that time we’ve enjoyed working with the service providers in Texas and remain proud and honored to have been selected by them. When considering the systems using iCarol prior to 2015, then with the addition of Texas last year, followed by several more networks in the year since welcoming Texas, approximately 42% of all 2-1-1 systems in North America now use iCarol.
It’s important to us that we connect with these service providers at events when possible and so we’re excited to be sending our team members Polly and Diana to represent us in Lubbock next week. We’ll be on hand to answer questions, meet and greet members of the Texas area information centers, and take part in sessions and conversations that help us better understand the needs of these centers so we can continue to provide the best service possible.
You can find out more about the conference here or download their mobile app. Be sure to follow us on Twitter to follow along with our activities at the conference.
You invest a lot of time collecting and then maintaining your database of community referrals so that you can connect your clients with the resources that can help them. But did you know that other organizations like hospitals, government agencies, corporations, and others have uses for that data, and are interested in partnering with you to access it?
Join us on Tuesday October 4th at 2pm EST for a webinar presented by iCarol Co-founder and CTO Neil McKechnie, to learn more about iCarol’s vision for creating data repositories that will help you build partnerships, open up new sources of funding, and most important of all, help more people.
Heavy rainfall over the course of several days has resulted in severe flooding in parts of Louisiana.
Here at iCarol our thoughts are with the people of Louisiana as well as our friends and partners at the United Way agencies and 2-1-1 call centers in the region who are helping those affected. Many of the people working at these agencies are currently facing the same hardships as the people they’re trying to help, and so it’s very inspiring to see their energy used in service to others at a time that may be just as difficult for them personally.
Our team also extends our love and support for our very own Christa who lives in Baton Rouge. We hope the flood waters recede soon so that everyone can be safe, regain power and other necessities, and begin the repair and recovery process.
The devastating impact so far:
- 13 people have lost their lives
- Over 30,000 rescues initiated
- Over 12,000 people staying in shelters at the height of the crisis
- 40,000 homes and businesses lost power
- Over 60,000 homes damaged or destroyed
- 102,000 registered for federal disaster aid
- Over 25 inches of rainfall in some locations over the course of just a few days
United Way organizations throughout the region are helping to coordinate disaster relief efforts as well as accepting donations to assist with response. Please see below for press releases and other information from our contacts at these organizations:
From United Ways across Acadiana:
St. Landry-Evangeline United Way, United Way of Acadiana, United Way of Iberia and United Way of Southwest Louisiana have partnered to launch the Greater Acadiana United Way Disaster Fund. To donate, text keyword FLOOD2016 to 41444, visit each individual United Way web site or contact the individual United Way.
United Way-supported programs with nonprofit partner agencies help provide food, clothing, counseling and other services.
“On top of the downturn in the local economy, this flooding is causing even more damage to financially stressed families,” said United Way of Acadiana President and CEO Margaret Trahan. “We really need to pull together and pool our resources to do the most good for the most people.”
United Ways are partnering with local residents and partners in the non-profit sector, businesses, faith-based sector and government to help people through the recovery process.
United Ways are also working with Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) to assess all other volunteer needs. Once those other volunteer have been identified, a United Way representative will contact registered volunteers with additional information. You can register to volunteer for emerging volunteer needs at www.unitedwayofacadiana.org or www.getconnected.uwsle.org.
United Way of Acadiana is accepting donated goods at its warehouse at 215 E. Pinhook Rd. from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily until further notice.
This location is the staging point for all donated supplies, which will be dispersed to shelters and other places where needed.
United Way of Acadiana is also working in collaboration with The Daily Advertiser, which is also a drop-off site for donated goods until Monday, Aug. 15.
Items needed are:
- Baby food & formula
- Toilet paper
- Bottled water
- Non-perishable food items (e.g. canned goods)
- Cleaning supplies
- Rubber gloves
- New, unopened packages of underwear (adult & children)
- New, unopened packages of socks (adult & children)
- Feminine hygiene products
- Toilet paper
- School supplies, due to flooding in local schools
- Boxes or containers
There is not a need for clothing donations at this time.
From Capital Area United Way in Baton Rouge:
With the continuing devastation occurring in our community, Capital Area United Way is now accepting donations for flood relief. During this historic flood, most of our 10-parish area has been deeply affected, and we stand together with local partners in the non-profit sector, businesses, faith-based sector and government to help people through the recovery process. Basic needs is one of the focus areas for Capital Area United Way to stabilize individuals and families in times of crisis.
To make a donation text LAFLOOD to 313131 or visit www.cauw.org and click donate. Donations can also be mailed to Capital Area United Way, Attn: Flood Relief, 700 Laurel Street, Baton Rouge, LA 70802. For volunteer opportunities visit www.cauw.org/volunteer.
In addition to monetary gifts, Capital Area United Way is accepting donated goods (listed above) at its office at 700 Laurel Street from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily until further notice. This location is the staging point for all donated supplies, which will be distributed to shelters and other locations where needed.
Searching for the right resource in iCarol is quick and easy, and can be done in two basic ways: either by its name or how it’s categorized. Searching for something by its name is typically most helpful to Resource Managers or other specialists who need to find an exact listing because they want to do a quality check or make changes. When it comes to assisting help seekers, it’s much more fruitful to search for something based on how it’s categorized, that is, the list of keywords or categories assigned to that resource that help describe what types of problems or issues the referral can assist with.
And then, there are two different types of categorizations one can use in iCarol: Categories or the Taxonomy. Each iCarol system will let you build your own hierarchy, as simple or complex as you like, of custom categorizations to assign to your community service provider listings to describe what they do. The Taxonomy is typically used by I&R helplines, 2-1-1′s, or other AIRS accredited information and referral providers, as this is an extremely detailed and complex categorization tree, which AIRS takes the time to maintain to keep everything consistent. This requires additional subscriptions both from AIRS and within iCarol, which you can read more about here.
Many of our users, for a variety of reasons, prefer to use both Categories and the Taxonomy in their iCarol systems. This allows for greater flexibility and other benefits, if requiring some additional time to categorize each resource with the proper terms using both categorization methods.
For these users, we’ve devised a new way that helps you ensure these varying types of categorization are ultimately working together well and producing great search results. Beginning with our next release, slated to occur on Tuesday July 19th, you can link one or more Taxonomy terms to your custom categories. This way, when someone is searching a certain custom category for a help seeker, the system ensures that not only will they be shown resources which have been coded with that category assigned, but also returns results that have been coded with a certain Taxonomy term or series of terms.
This can really speed up the process of collecting appropriate referrals for your caller, eliminating the need to do multiple searches by essentially creating Taxonomy groups. Here’s how to turn this feature on, once available:
- Log in to iCarol as an Admin, or other user who has been granted access to Admin Tools
- Click on “Admin Tools” from the left menu
- Click on the “Resources” tab
- Under the AIRS/211 Taxonomy section, click the checkbox for the setting “In category searches, also look in taxonomy terms linked to the category”
Next, you’ll want to begin linking your Categories to Taxonomy terms. To do that…
- Click on “Resources” from the left menu
- Click on “Manage Resources” to the right of the geographic filters
- Click on “Customize your categories” from under the Taxonomy and categories section
- Click on an existing category to view the Taxonomy terms assigned to this category configuration menu
- Using the same process as assigning a Taxonomy Term to a resource, search for, or drill down to select taxonomy terms to link to the category.
- Once terms are selected, click “Save taxonomy selections below” to add terms to the Category. To delete existing terms from a category, select the term to delete and click “Delete taxonomy selections above”
As shown in the example above, one way you can use this tool to group together similar Taxonomy terms to create Taxonomy groups, which are then linked to a single custom category. In the example above, an I&R Specialist can search for the category of Holiday Meals, and all records that have been assigned any of the singular and specific listed Taxonomy terms (Christmas Meals, Easter Meals, etc.), will be returned in that search. A note that while Resource Managers can create these groupings at any time, this tool will only work and actually return the proper results if the feature is turned on in Admin Tools, as shown in the first set of instructions.
We hope this new feature will help save your specialists time as they’re working with your clients, getting them even more appropriate referrals quickly, and without having to recall as many individual Taxonomy terms as they do so. If you have questions about this new tool that isn’t answered in our Help Articles or this blog, please reach out to our Support Team.
May was a busy month for our team, capped off with a trip to St. Louis for the 38th Annual Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS) training and education conference. But before that conference got started, we had an exciting event of our own to host.
For awhile now we’ve been wanting to experiment with holding an in-person training event for our clients; something that would allow us to go beyond the sessions we historically participate in during these conferences which generally must be not vendor specific. We love sharing our broad knowledge with folks at sessions like this, but recognize there’s an opportunity for iCarol-specific education especially given that so many of our clients would be present and, we hoped, interested in spending some time with us.
So late last year we began planning what would become the iCarol Summit, a day-long intensive training event hosted by us and featuring members of our team with extensive knowledge and expertise in Information and Referral (I&R). The Summit was held on Sunday May 22nd to superb turnout by iCarol users all across North America.
Neil welcomed everyone with an opening keynote where he discussed recent iCarol growth, the state of the I&R industry, and trends we’re seeing. A few highlights include:
- The size of our team has doubled in the last 18 months
- The number of users worldwide is solidly above 50,000 and growing
- 1/3 of 211s in North America use iCarol and that number is continuously growing
- 5 of our staff hold CIRS or CRS certifications from AIRS
- iCarol leadership continues to take an active role in discussions about AIRS standards and technology initiatives in the I&R industry
- In 2015 we added over 1,600 enhancements to our product with many more coming before 2016 ends
- There are more ways than ever for our users to enhance their iCarol knowledge, from training webinars and on-demand videos available now, to tailored walk-throughs which are coming soon
- Discovering and trialing iCarol will be made easier with added automation to the onboarding process
The I&R Industry Trends
- AIRS standards continue to evolve
- Big data and data sharing
- Extending reach via mobile, live chat, texting, and social media
- Self-service via the web and apps
From there, our participants headed onward to a day of sessions we developed with our users’ needs in mind. Polly gave a thorough presentation which walked us through bringing together AIRS standards and AIRS resource database quality recommendations using iCarol. She discussed iCarol program metrics and tools and how they can directly improve your ability to meet certain AIRS standards and recommendations. Just one of many examples, the Resource Complexity report, which provides an analysis of your records and how they rate on complexity. The report suggests the number of hours it may take to manage them using the AIRS standards as a guide, therefore giving the tools to determine the number of FTEs needed at your agency to meet these standards. The rest of the presentation covered similar program tools and metrics that directly assist with meetings AIRS standards and thus achieving certification.
Christa led a session on the many ways you can use iCarol to reach your community beyond fielding phone calls — and we’re not just talking about iCarol Messaging (Live Chat and Texting). This session covered tools like the Public Resource Directory, Online Forms, texting or emailing referrals, follow-up texts, the API, and more. In fact, for each of these areas she discussed not just the tool as a whole, but some individual components or settings in each function. The group was exposed and educated on many iCarol features that they had previously not discovered, or didn’t have extensive knowledge of. Crystal held a session on Proving Your Value, covering topics like Needs and Unmet Needs reports, examining your exports, and a peek at new exporting tools coming soon, along with some discussion about Microsoft’s powerful Power BI capability.
These are just a few examples of the highly detailed and helpful breakout sessions we aimed to bring our participants, and we’re so pleased by the attendance and enthusiasm at these presentations.
At the end of our Summit, Rachel presented a traditional usergroup session, which was open not just to Summit attendees but to any interested party who was visiting the conference and wished to learn more about iCarol. In this final session of the day, Rachel touched on some of iCarol’s product initiatives, including planned enhancements we’re currently calling “Messaging 2.0″ and “Public Resource Directory (PRD) 2.0.” Messaging 2.0 will enhance the usability of this feature via a more efficient approach to both the workflox and access to the resource search. These enhancements will also improve your productivity — not only will you be able to find and give visitors their referrals even faster, but the enhancement should result in a quicker response time when working in your forms. Messaging 2.0 will also bring with it increased reliability and fewer opportunities for the already low occurrence of “lost” messages. This enhancement is still being developed and so we cannot commit to a firm release date right now, however at this time we estimate a fall 2016 launch.
The new developments to the iCarol PRD will boost your ability to direct help-seekers to services via the PRD’s embedded resource search on your website. The enhancements will reduce the time it takes to obtain search results, while simultaneously offering greater control over appearance including more integrated tools to build “guided” searches, or customizing CSS or using the API for even greater control. Further, you’ll be able to configure the weighting of search results, set up guided searches, filtering, and more.
Rachel wrapped up our day by speaking to other recently released development, and spoke to a few other planned enhancements for the remainder of 2016.
We thoroughly enjoyed presenting our first ever iCarol Summit, and we truly hope all who attended enjoyed themselves and learned a lot that they can put into practice at their helplines. The feedback we’ve received so far has been extremely positive, and the success of this event has encouraged us to plan future events. We’d appreciate your help in making that happen. Please take a second to answer just a few questions that will help us develop future training events.
Help us plan future events
Next up was the AIRS Conference, and the team had a blast. It’s difficult to sum up so much activity and also express how much fun we had. These events are always a great chance for us to see each other, our clients, industry folks, and meet lots of new friends.
Polly and Crystal hosted an extremely popular session called “Crunching the numbers” where they took the audience through the process of interpreting your data through Excel tools like pivot tables. This workshop was non-vendor specific, meaning the session focused on elements that any helpline with data could find helpful, regardless of the software they use to collect that data. According to Polly, one attendee of the presentation said he was working on his MBA and some of the material covered in the session wasn’t even included in an advanced course on Excel.
We received great feedback about this workshop — Stay tuned as you may see the opportunity to watch either a live or recorded version of this presentation in the future.
As usual, we had a booth set up so we could share information about iCarol to interested parties, as well as having a place to greet our users who came to visit. The exhibitor’s hall was expansive and impressive, located in the lobby area of the historic St. Louis Union Station Hotel. Check us out in the bottom left of the photo.
We kept ourselves tuned in to the trends and discussions impacting the I&R industry. There were a lot of conversations that extended the themes of the keynote from the United Way 2-1-1 CEO convention back in March, which we attended. There are plans to build a national resource data repository for United Way Worldwide, and it appears those plans are progressing and getting more detailed. We’ll be keeping a close watch on this, as it could influence iCarol innovation and development of tools for our users who may want to participate in such a database.
Follow-ups, measuring outcomes, processing and effectively reporting your data, and expanding your reach to help seekers all emerged as hot topics. As we hope you’d expect by now, we’re actively engaged in these conversations and constantly assessing how iCarol can be developed to give you the leverage you need.
Our users are doing some pretty cool stuff using iCarol — notably Kings United Way in California which created the 211 Intelliful app that connects residents of Kings and Tulare Counties in California with the resources available to them. It’s available via the App Store and Google Play, and will give you a good idea of all the amazing things you can do using the iCarol API. We were happy and really impressed with the app they developed and others clearly were, too.
Of course we left time for fun. St. Louis provided lots of opportunities for that. The gang enjoyed a tour of the Anheuser-Busch Brewery
And as is tradition, we also took in a ball game, Cardinals vs. Cubs.
And just like that, it was over! We loved our time in St. Louis and this was a particularly energizing conference in part because of the iCarol Summit and in part because of all the creativity, innovation, and excitement we were exposed to. Don’t forget to give us your input about future in-person trainings by iCarol — we’d love to take you with us on our next adventure!