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Introducing iCarol Folksonomy

When people in the public are searching your public website for a resource that can help them, it can sometimes lead to frustration that they are getting no results. When you look closer at how they are searching, it becomes clear that they aren’t familiar with the way that resources are named or categorized. In other words, they are expressing a need, like “I am hungry” but the resources in your database are represented as services, like “Food pantries”.

In fact in commonly used categorization schemes, such as the AIRS Taxonomy or a custom categorization scheme built directly by your helpline, you won’t find the word “hungry” in any of the categories, terms or definitions. Multiply this by all the possible needs people have, and you can quickly see how a great deal of the population won’t get connected to valuable services. Other example searches are “I need a ride to work”, “My family needs a place to stay” and “I lost my job yesterday”.

So how can these help seekers, who are expressing a need, be connected with the services that can assist them? Clearly, we need to build a bridge between the two approaches. The solution we’re employing in iCarol’s Public Resource Directory is called the Folksonomy (an intentional mashup of the word Folk, as in “colloquial”, and Taxonomy).

In a nutshell, it helps find results if the search did not match an Agency or Program name, a taxonomy term or the officially defined synonyms for taxonomy terms (called “use references”). It does this by picking up colloquial words or phrases in a search and corresponds them to taxonomy terms, and then performs the search for resources assigned to those taxonomy terms.

A perfect example would be if someone typed “I am really hungry” into the search box. The Folksonomy fills the gap that normally would be mediated by a helpline’s phone worker on a call by connecting the expressed need to one or more taxonomy terms, like Food Pantries and Ongoing Emergency Food Assistance.

We have been testing this approach with clients and it is yielding exceedingly good results. Those clients also have an administrative interface to find recent searches yielding no results, and then to make Folksonomy entries so that future such searches will instead yield the right results.

Here is a scenario where the word “ride” is a Folksonomy entry corresponding to several taxonomy terms. If you had performed this search before we implemented the Folksonomy you would have gotten zero results. Instead you now get a number of transportation-related resources:

Folksonomy

By building that bridge between the layman’s terms used by your web visitors and the detailed categorization of the 211 Taxonomy, iCarol’s Folksonomy will greatly improve the ability for your Public Resource Directory searchers to find what they are looking for and ultimately get the services they need.

We’ll have more information to share about implementing iCarol’s Folksonomy in the coming weeks. Want to learn more about managing your Resources with iCarol? Join us for our Resource Management Webinar on May 20th at 2pm EST.

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Collaborate with partners: Load balance chats between organizations

We have an exciting new capability to share with iCarol Messaging subscribers. You can now allow a partner center, or multiple centers, to take chats for you from within their own iCarol system.

Collaborating w partnersThis new ability is transparent to visitors; they will not be aware of which center is taking the chat session. Visitors will still click on your familiar Chat Now button on your website and will see your prechat survey. But during times you designate, both you and your partner center will see those visitors come in to each of your messaging queues. As usual, safeguards are in place so two people don’t accidentally take the same chat. Both centers will have access to submitted call report forms and associated real-time statistics.

The possibilities here are endless. It’s ideal for handling overflow in a disaster situation. Watch your messaging queue grow shorter and become more manageable as your partner agency takes some of your chats. You can use this feature to handle after-hours messaging visitors. Because iCarol centers are found in multiple time zones, after-hours for you might be prime time for another center, and your partner could take all of your after-hours chats. This lets you expand your hours of service without trying to staff shifts during hard-to-staff hours. Want to get really fancy? You could even designate multiple centers to handle chats that come in to a central iCarol system, effectively creating a consortium of chat centers where no single center feels overburdened or underutilized. Every partner center sees all chats and takes chats when they can — it’s load balancing at its finest. Each partner center could have their own hours of service, too, and you’d get real-time statistics.

If you’re interested but don’t have a partner center in mind, feel free to post a message on the iCarol User Community on the Dashboard to find your perfect match. We can see it now: Single Crisis Center on East Coast seeks same on West Coast for meaningful after-hours relationship…looking for good listening skills, compassion, and ability to read between the lines. 🙂

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iCarol Helps You Go Green

At iCarol we’re delighted that our tools assist helplines in saving time and money, but we also care deeply about our impact on the environment. This Earth Day we’d like to highlight some of the ways that iCarol helps you go green.

1. Storing your volunteer and call data online with iCarol means reducing the need to print and store physical files, saving you paper and space

2. Online shift scheduling provides realtime updates so you don’t have to print or email new versions of your shift calendar with each change or picked up shift

3. Use the News feature to eliminate the need to print and post memos in the call center

4. iCarol gives your organization more options for workers to complete tasks at home which means fewer vehicles on the road

5. You can note in a resource record the bus line or transit options for a resource making it easier for someone to consider public transit instead of driving

6. Your Public Resource Directory allows the public to search, save, and map the resources they need so they can get what they want quickly and know where they are going

7. Specialized Exports create a Word or Excel file of just the resources you need and none of the ones you don’t

8. Automated Verification removes the need to mail or fax update requests

9. The electronic feedback loop in call reports eliminates the need for printed notes or other correspondence for feedback

10. When using a Call Report as an intake form that will be passed off to another agency, you can use the PDF feature to email the call report instead of printing it

How has iCarol helped you go green? Leave us a comment!

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5 Questions to ask during volunteer interviews

Vols-StaffThe volunteer screening and application process serves a dual purpose. It gives the helpline manager the opportunity to meet the volunteer and evaluate their ability to work on the helpline. For the volunteer it can be a discovery meeting where they learn more about the realities of helpline volunteerism. For both parties it’s a major step in deciding if the volunteer will move to the next stage.

Most helplines have a well-established list of questions to ask, but we’d like to offer these for your consideration…

1. Why do you think you’d be a good fit for our helpline? – The responses to this question let your volunteer share their qualities, but they’ll also reveal their preconceptions about what it’s like to work on a helpline. Portrayals in movies, television, or commonly held beliefs about crisis work tend to permeate volunteer expectations. Someone might answer, “I think I could give great advice.” This may open the door for you to talk about the reality of the work you do at the helpline. Perhaps you don’t give advice but rather listen to the caller, talk through their options, and let the caller ultimately decide what they’ll do. The volunteer will appreciate the chance to learn about what they can really expect when working on the helpline as opposed to what they’ve been imagining it’d be like.

2. Are you comfortable being observed and receiving feedback? – There’s a good chance your call center is a place where several people are working together at once, often times in close quarters. Your workers may routinely be right there observing their partner’s calls and giving peer feedback afterward. They can also expect to receive feedback from supervisors. New volunteers should be prepared for the work environment and know that feedback isn’t about someone else being critical of their work, but rather it’s intended to help them be successful and better serve the callers. For some, the prospect of regular observation and evaluation may be more than they were expecting.

3. Can you think on your feet? – Quick thinking is an essential quality for any helpline volunteer. The tone of a call can change in an instant and a skilled volunteer will pick up on hints at suicide and know how to proceed. You never know when a caller might say or ask something that takes you by surprise, and the ability to come back with a quick response will ensure the volunteer is always ready and in control of the situation. Not all volunteers will know how to hit the curveballs.

4. Are you a good detective? – You might not immediately think of investigative skills as being important to helpline work, but they’ll come in handy. You can’t just hear, you have to listen, and sometimes that means discovering more than what’s being revealed on the surface. In talking with a caller, sometimes it takes the right methods of reflection and questioning to get to the core of what’s going on for the caller and how the volunteer can help. Searching for the right referrals for a caller can also take some sleuthing and creativity especially when resources are limited or the caller isn’t eligible for services. Thinking outside the box and coming up with ideas and alternatives is a useful skill to have.

5. Do you need to see results to feel like you accomplished something? – New volunteers may be disappointed to find that after spending an hour talking a caller through a problem, that same person may call back in a month, still experiencing the same issue. And for callers who live with chronic and persistent mental illness, each day may come with a similar set of challenges, routines, and coping skills. Helpline workers aren’t always going to see huge changes and immediate positive turnarounds. In many cases, you never even know how it all turned out. The miracle success stories may be few and far between. This doesn’t mean, however, that the work you do isn’t helpful. Often in the helpline world, we need to re-frame our expectations and what we see as “success.” For some callers, just making it through the hour is successful. That hour spent on the line was an hour they didn’t feel as lonely, and it provided them with the boost they needed to get through the evening. If a volunteer needs to see more apparent success in order for them to feel like they had an impact, helpline work may leave them feeling burnt out and disappointed.

There’s a lot to consider when vetting a prospective volunteer. These questions may help both you and the volunteer further evaluate their desire, readiness, and natural abilities to determine whether they’ll end up joining your organization.

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iCarol to present workshop on Online Emotional Support at AAS Conference

We’re gearing up for the American Association of Suicidology’s 47th Annual Conference in Los Angeles! We’re looking forward to seeing so many of our friends and colleagues there; it’s always a great chance to catch up with everyone in the helpline and suicide prevention industry.

This year iCarol is particularly excited to present a special lunch session on Friday April 11th. Our workshop is
Chat, Texting, Mobile and Social: A look at today and the future of online emotional support with iCarol.

WebinarsWith every passing year, the use of new channels to seek help continues to expand. Join this session to help your crisis center evaluate these channels, determine your next steps and plan your technology choices to adapt to the evolving Online Emotional Support (OES) landscape. You’ll hear from your peers and technology experts about the best way to get started serving people interactively using the electronically written, rather than the spoken word.Smart Phone  with two thumbs

Adding new channels by which your clients can reach you can be intimidating and may leave you with a lot of questions. We hope to answer the questions you may have about these new technologies and give you confidence to embark on this new and exciting path with the tools iCarol has developed. We hope you’ll join us for this session at AAS! Not attending the conference but still want to learn more about our Online Emotional Support capabilities? Sign up for a webinar!

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211 and the United Way Promote Free Tax Preparation

US 211

Americans have less than a month left until the April 15th deadline by which they must file their federal and state tax returns. This can be a stressful and costly event for American families. Some choose to brave the mountains of forms and instructional packets on their own. Others use DIY software to guide them, while many pay a professional to make the calculations and filings on their behalf. Committed to improving financial stability, the United Way in partnership with 211 call centers all across the country are trying to alert eligible citizens of another option.

Depending mostly upon income and the types of forms to be filed, many may qualify for free tax preparation services. By dialing 2-1-1 they can learn more about their eligibility or participating tax preparation sites in their area. These tax preparation sites use volunteers who have gone through extensive training to be volunteer tax preparers. People can also visit MyFreeTaxes.com to go through the filing process online.

It’s also important that eligible families take advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a credit which helps low-wage families and can assist in lifting families out of poverty. Unfortunately an estimated 20% of eligible Americans don’t claim this credit, but the United Way is looking to change that through their awareness programs.

Going a step further, the United Way and the MyFreeTaxes.com site educate Americans on ways they can maximize their refund by purchasing savings bonds, opening a savings account, paying overdue bills, paying down debt, or contributing to their household emergency savings fund. All of these wise uses of tax refunds contribute to the goal of financial stability in communities across the US.

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Expand Your Brand: Public Resource Directory option

If you use iCarol’s Public Resource Directory feature to let visitors search for resources on your website, you can also offer the ability for visitors to create a pdf of their search results that they could print out or save. Laptop in useThere’s no extra charge for this if you subscribe to the Public Resource Directory feature.

If you’d like to customize that pdf, we can do that for you. You could have a custom cover page and/or a custom page header. Maybe you’d like to include your logo, a mission statement, and/or funder information? There is an extra setup charge for this customization. Please contact your iCarol rep or .

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National Association of Crisis Center Directors Partners with National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

The National Association of Crisis Center Directors (NASCOD) recently announced an exciting collaboration with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. These two leading authorities in the helpline industry will collaborate on the delivery of monthly Webinars and Peer Support calls. The collaboration allows both agencies to highlight their strengths, share vital information across a larger network of crisis agencies and maximize training opportunities with ease and convenience for the busy helpline and suicide prevention professional.

This collaboration presents two major benefits to participants:

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  • NASCOD Members will be invited to the Lifeline Evaluation Webinar Series which will focus on research supporting crisis and suicide intervention best practices

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  • NASCOD will coordinate and present a series of peer support calls that will be shared with the Suicide Lifeline Network


  • If you’re not yet a member of NASCOD we highly recommend you consider becoming a member. NASCOD provides great resources to professionals at crisis lines, helplines, and suicide prevention lines. Regularly held Peer Support Calls allow crisis center directors to engage with one another and benefit from the experience of other directors on a number of pertinent topics. NASCOD also holds an annual conference that helps directors hone in on management and leadership skills, network with other helpline professionals, and learn more about specific topics, issues, and challenges in the helpline industry. Many NASCOD members use iCarol helpline management software and so this is one more area in which members can share knowledge and information with one another, for example how they are using iCarol features such as texting/SMS, chat, statistics, and resources to their advantage.

    With the announcement of this partnership with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline it’s an excellent time to become a NASCOD member and take advantage of this opportunity to participate in the exchange of ideas and experiences between these two important leaders in the crisis helpline industry.

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    iCarol announces new Text and SMS Capabilities

    Recently we announced the availability of several exciting new capabilities related to Texting/SMS in your iCarol system:

    Smart Phone with texting thumbs
    • Send a text message (SMS) to your callers from a follow-up task attached to a call report. Best practices from suicide prevention professionals show that proactive follow-ups can reduce risks to suicidal callers.

    • Send ad hoc text messages to your staff and volunteers, and allow them to receive automated iCarol notifications like shift reminders by text message. As many people now check email less frequently, this is an important new channel for them to use.

    • See the total text message usage for your iCarol system. If you have any feature enabled that can generate Text/ SMS messages, you can now go to the Statistics -> Messaging page to see how many are being sent and received.

    • If you also have iCarol Messaging (SMS), then when people respond to these outbound text messages, their responses will come into your Messaging queue. If not, they will receive an auto-responder indicating responses are not monitored.

    To turn on these features and learn more about using Text Messaging/SMS at your helpline, go to the Admin Tools page and click on the new Messaging tab. Please note that Text Messaging / SMS traffic can result in additional charges from iCarol as well as for the recipient from their mobile phone service provider. If you have any questions, feel free to contact the iCarol Support Team by logging a case.

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    iCarol celebrates 211 Day

    It’s February 11th and today we celebrate 211 Day. 211 is an easy to remember three digit number, but unlike 411 or 911, the focus of 211 is to provide callers with information and referral to health and human services in their communities. Best of all it’s free* and confidential. Boasting an impressive reach, 211 is available to nearly 91% of Americans and 56% of Canadians. In the US 211 has a presence in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

    211 is the number to dial when you need to know what local service might help you prevent an eviction, apply for food stamps, seek treatment for mental illness or addictions, or avoid a utility shut off due to an unpaid bill. Rather than spend hours of frustration calling around to various agencies, callers can make 211 their first call for assistance and speak to a trained Information and Referral Specialist that can spend time evaluating their needs, educating them about resources, and then connect them with the appropriate services.

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    211 is also an essential service in times of disaster. In recent years during hurricanes, blizzards, flooding, earthquakes, and other natural disasters, 211 is widely known as a number to call for information and referral. Even in the more routine, yet still disruptive, events such as extreme cold or heat, 211 is available to refer callers to heating or cooling centers. Winter can be especially hard for people with financial hardships as utility cut offs can pose a real danger. In times like these 211 helps direct callers to local services that assist with utility bills, sign up for energy assistance, or prevent a shut off.

    iCarol is delighted and honored to work with so many 211 providers across the US and Canada. These organizations provide a vital service to their communities and connect millions of people to essential services each year.

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