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Author Archive

Jackie McKechnie

Jackie co-founded iCarol in 2004 after working as a helpline volunteer at a Distress Center in Canada . With a background in Engineering, Technology and Marketing, Jackie is COO and Director of Marketing for iCarol.

iCarol is your help line software company that is here to make your job easier as Executive Director or leader of a non-profit contact center. Whether you have a crisis, help or 211 referral line, we are here to help you help more people in your community. Read more…

Education: A Path to Gratitude

As this year begins to wind down and the American Thanksgiving holiday is upon us, I like to pause and think back on the year and see if there is a central theme to what I am most grateful for. Usually it’s a challenge to pick one thing, but this year the answer floated easily to the top. This year I am most thankful for education.

Education rises to the top of my list this year for several reasons.

Firstly, Neil and I have two children of whom we are exceptionally proud. For them right now, it is all about their education- we like to remind them that it’s their job to learn. Even at their young age, they understand how important their education is and are willing to do whatever it takes to succeed at it (ok, ‘willing’ might be too strong a word 🙂 ). Our children’s education is going to open doors for them their whole lives and help them become well balanced and empathetic contributors to society. It does not escape me that the opportunity for education is not equally available to all.

For my children’s education I am very thankful.

The next impact of education comes right here with the iCarol team. We grew significantly this year; adding new employees, strengthening our infrastructure to propel our growth and adding new initiatives to help educate and support our clients. With this radical pace of evolution, I watched in awe as my team brainstormed, collaborated, and learned new tools and techniques to implement change and manage all of this growth. These are some really clever people! Their education and experience were integral to this year’s successes. We come from varying backgrounds, most of us with helpline experience, some with degrees in Psychology or Social Work, others in Computer Science, Engineering, or Business, and this diversity ultimately helps us as we work to the common goal of growing our company and improving our product for our clients.

For the iCarol team’s education I am very thankful.

And most importantly I am inspired by the role of education within helplines. iCarol supports all manner of help organizations- from crisis and mental health; to information and referral; from addiction to animals; from the very young to the very old. It is astounding to reflect upon what it takes for helpline organizations to become the agents of change and support that they are. Volunteers, staff, directors and board members have all traveled the path from awareness, to self-education to educating their communities to educating their ‘callers’ on their options. I think of the endless hours of training that have been invested in phone and online support counselors, the constant seeking of new information that can help callers, and how driven our clients are to expose themselves to new technologies to improve services.

For how education creates help, I am grateful.

As you celebrate Thanksgiving and prepare for the upcoming holiday season and reflect on the things for which you are thankful, please know that you, and your volunteers and staff, are warmly regarded by all of us here at iCarol. We are thankful for your business and for your trust in us and our software as you provide vital, life-saving services in your communities. I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with your families and loved ones

Sincerely,

Jacqueline McKechnie
Co-Founder, iCarol

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iCarol goes green – hamsters to power all servers!

In a move cheered by rodents everywhere, the iCarol team is getting on the green bandwagon in a big way by enlisting an army of hamsters to provide power to its servers. “We did the math” said Director of Technology Vinh “and realized that each hamster can generate about 10 watts of electricity at full speed on a spinning wheel. After that it was just a quick run to the local pet stores, some creative purchases at Home Depot and a whole lot of duct tape.”

CaptureHoused in PETA-certified humane habitats, the hamsters will be fed an organic diet and be given ample time in a play yard when they are not on shift. Every two days they will be given milk baths and groomed until their fur reaches a sheen.

“All this pampering results in enthusiastic and energetic hamsters, running to produce a steady stream of 120-volt electricity that can be combined and fed directly into one of the high-powered servers” says Client Support Manager Carmen, “as long as they don’t chew through the wires!” added Support Specialist Dana.

“I call it a convenient truth” says Director of Marketing Jackie, “that harnessing the free and limitless energy of these small critters reduces our carbon footprint while making iCarol users happy at the same time!”

When asked what the future holds, Client Manager Shelley said to expect even more big things as iCarol gets more green. “I don’t want to reveal too much yet, other than to say how amazed I am at what parakeets can do with an abacus.”

As an added bonus, it’s cheaper than traditional sources of power “as long as those green food pellets – whatever the heck they are made of – stay below $3 per pound” says Finance Director Lisa. Client Manager Donna wants to “make it interesting” by organizing after-hours, Indy 500-style races amongst the hamsters: “Hey, a little competitive spirit will keep them in top form.”

Support Team members Margitta and Britt are giving German and Swedish names, which they speak fluently, to all the rodents. “We’re naming them in rhyming pairs. Hans and Franz were obvious, then Boris and Dolores. We’re now working on the other 296 and hope to be done before Christmas.”

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iPhone’s Siri offering help to those expressing suicidal thoughts

‘Thanks to some extraordinary efforts by the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the United States, Apple’s “Siri” feature on iPhones will highlight that people expressing suicidal thoughts or seeking help for feeling suicidal will be offered the Lifeline’s toll-free phone number. The Huffington Post has an informative article and screen shots about the new capability. If you’re not sure what Siri is, it lets you talk to your iPhone to ask it for help about any variety of topics. Wikipedia has an informative article about Siri. Continue Reading

Help Google and other search engines find your public resource database

If you publish your live resource records to your public website via a tool like the iCarol Public Resource Directory, you may wonder how Google and other search engines can find all of your entries. The answer is to tell them where to look, by supplying them with a special file called a “Site map”. This tells you the internet web address of every page containing your detailed resource records, so they can “crawl” their content and incorporate into their search results.   iCarol has a tool that lets you generate these “Site map” files for your live resource database. Just sign in and go to the Manage Resources page, then click to the Public Resource Directory tools and scroll down to the bottom for more information. Continue Reading

It’s time for your help line to offer live chat and text messaging service

For years, most non-profit help lines considered their service to be synonymous with the telephone, and for good reason. In developed countries it is ubiquitous, reliable and low cost. So providing information and emotional support by telephone has been an effective way to connect with anyone in the general public needing these services. But just in the past year, electronic channels like live chat and text messaging (SMS) surpassed the levels of use seen by voice phone calls. If you’re a non-profit help line who that only thinks about serving people by voice telephone calls, it’s time to think again. Since 2008, more adults have mobile phones than regular telephone lines (89% vs 81% – Harris Interactive). And those mobile phone subscribers conduct more text messaging conversations than actual voice conversations (Nielson Mobile Media), sending over 75 billion such messages every month and growing exponentially. Even when folks are not on a mobile phone, they increasingly turn to non-voice modes of communication like instant messaging (IM). In fact four in ten online Americans now use IM regularly (Pew Internet & American Life). Just as telephone-based help lines seemed revolutionary to the pioneers who started them 40+ years ago, it may seem revolutionary to consider offering service through these electronic channels. But we maintain that your services should not be restricted to one particular technology – the telephone –instead you should use whatever modes of communication are in wide use by the public to make a difference with your services. Clearly, channels like text messaging, instant messaging and email are pervasive in our society. If your helpline only serves people by telephone, you may soon be expected to also deliver your service through SMS and live chat. But the prospect of figuring out how to offer these channels is daunting – finding reliable and cost effective service providers, training your people on new tools, tracking and reporting on these interactions – add up to an expensive and time consuming endeavor. Or does it? What if your help line management software integrated these channels in an elegant manner? What if offering instant messaging or texting was as simple as clicking a few buttons? With iCarol Messaging, it’s as easy as that. We’ve built the systems to make it easy for your clients to reach you by any of these electronic channels. Your staff and volunteers get access to a wide range of tools familiar to them so they can provide great service and collect data on their interactions. You get a comprehensive view of your help line’s operations that comprehends all your service delivery channels. To find out more, please read more or contact us. Continue Reading

New Helpline? Member of THA? Start right with the benefits from iCarol.

1Life, a new helpline in Ireland, has received the ‘start right’ programme benefits from iCarol. About 1Life 1Life is a dedicated 24 hour free-phone national suicide prevention helpline in Ireland that began service in November 2009. Their telephone system routes calls amongst six centres with numerous staff, contract counsellors and professional volunteers. With greater expansion and increased recruitment planned, 1Life quickly realized that a manual, paper-based process is not sustainable and sought for a robust and efficient alternative. Found solution with iCarol, Start Right programme During their search, they heard about iCarol through The Helpline Association and their special Start Right programme. Via this special partnership, help lines in that are members of THA and in operation for less than one year qualify for a waiver on the standard iCarol setup fee. After seeing a brief demonstration of iCarol they were convinced it was the right choice for them. After several months of operation, 1Life now has 31 staffers and use a wide range of the iCarol features: Call report logging Repeat caller profiles Follow up tasks and scheduling Service provider database News announcements feature. Client feedback “The iCarol interface has already made a huge difference to us here in 1Life. Workers share real time call information with colleagues across the country. Such an efficient and comprehensive tool is essential for our work and has allowed us to implement our comprehensive policies, procedures and interventions with great ease. We are also looking forward to working with iCarol in the coming year to extend our services to other support mediums; hopefully we will ultimately reach more people when then may need us most.” – Ciarán Austin, Helpline Manager. Continue Reading

iCarol presents its Messaging feature at the AIRS conference in May 2010

iCarol Messaging: Offer Instant Messaging, cell phone texting, email and social network channels for your clients, integrated with the iCarol I&R software and database. Deploy Instant Messaging, Texting/SMS and more in one day, then make referrals from your database, log interactions, run reports, and more. When: Monday May 24th, 1:00-2:30pm Presenter: Neil McKechnie, BSEE, MBA, MCP Objectives: At the conclusion of this presentation, the participant should be able to -Understand why crisis centers should be reachable via online channels -Articulate which demographic groups use different channels -Explain how a crisis center can quickly deploy these offerings via iCarol Abstract: For decades, most crisis centers have served the populace via in-person counseling and telephone help lines. In recent years some have “gone online” by publishing resource directories and helpful information on their websites. But with the emergence of new communication channels like email, instant messaging, cell phone texting and social networks, many crisis centers are struggling to understand just what they are, how they might be used to serve the public, and how they could add these channels to their service delivery. As well, crucial questions remain: Are these new channels just a passing fad, or are they important to consider? If so, which ones should we focus on and how can we deploy them? And how do I deploy them in a way that integrates well with my existing operations, training, accreditation and reporting requirements? In this presentation, we’ll review these new communication channels and present data about which demographic groups are the primary users of each one, and show the changes in these demographics over time. As you’ll see, nearly all of them are the overwhelmingly preferred channel for certain identifiable and large population groups, making them a vital component of any crisis center’s offerings. We’ll offer some examples of innovative uses of these new capabilities, including ways that crisis centers could consider them for service delivery. And we’ll finish by showing how the tools to deploy any or all of these channels exist today in iCarol, help line management software in use by many crisis centers and other help lines throughout the world today. About AIRS: AIRS is the professional association for over 1,200 community Information and Referral providers, primarily in the United States and Canada – helping to bring people and services together for over 30 years. Conference dates: May 23rd to May 26th 2010 Continue Reading

The SIOM Project’s DC Connection

By Neil McKechnie, DCO eNews, June 2009 The Distress Centres of Ontario are embarking upon an exciting data capture project that will provide province-wide data and analysis to its leaders about caller demographics, issues, call volume trends and more. I can proudly say this will make Ontario and its DCO member centres one of the most progressive regions anywhere.

Five years ago, my wife Jackie and I enjoyed great technology careers at Intel of Canada and volunteered at the Oakville Distress Centre. We saw the opportunity for Oakville to modernize their agency with a web-based software system that would manage the major aspects of running a help line like volunteer management, shift scheduling, call reports, referral management, and statistics and reporting. Since we didn’t find a system that did all these things in an affordable, secure, and easy-to-use way, we began building a system ourselves. Little did we know that neighbouring centres would also become fans of our system. Eventually, we left Intel and incorporated our system as CharityLogic, working full time to serve non-profit help lines through our offering, iCarol. Amazingly, we now have clients in 28 states and provinces, plus the United Kingdom, Australia and even India. We’ve got over a dozen people on our team, over 10,000 users of the system, and are still growing steadily. Several months ago, we were delighted when DCO awarded us the contract for the Statistics, Information and Outcome Measures (SIOM) project. When completed, non-identifying call information will be copied from the DCO centres into a special iCarol system on an ongoing basis. DCO leaders can sign on securely to see many different charts and call reports. Each centre will be able to compare their own statistics with the provincial figures, and in a matter of seconds, users can answer specific province-wide questions like: How many calls did all of the DCO centres take last month, and how does that compare with the previous month? Is the length of our calls longer or shorter around the December holidays? What are the top issues or concerns for female callers between the ages of 20 to 40? What mental health issues are male callers with physical health issues most likely to have? With the iCarol system, DCO leaders will be able to speak much more persuasively to funders, the government, researchers, and the general public about the types of people we serve, the issues callers face, and the value of our services to our communities. When considering state, provincial, or national distress line associations around the world, you can count on one hand the number of those who currently have this kind of powerful capability. Congratulations to the DCO member centres for your vision in commissioning this project! Continue Reading

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