As the end of 2018 approaches, we want to take the opportunity to provide some housekeeping tasks for you to review. We know how busy you are every day of the year, and even if you already have processes in place for these tasks, getting them done might fall to the bottom of your to-do list sometimes. Now is a good time to review these housekeeping tasks to help you get the most out of your iCarol system, while you’re getting ready for another exciting year!
Review Draft Contact Forms
It’s a good idea to designate a user with appropriate permissions to review all Contact Forms in DRAFT and ensure they’re either submitted or deleted by the end of the year. This is important because any Contact Forms in draft mode aren’t included in Statistics or Data Exports reports, so you could be missing import reporting data if forms documenting completed calls are left in draft mode. And erroneous drafts can clutter up your draft list, making it harder for your staff to see the drafts that actually need to be reviewed and completed. To learn more about draft Contact Records, read this related help article.
Set Obsolete Contact Record Custom Fields To “Inactive” Status
The information you need to collect on your Contact Forms may periodically change. For example, perhaps a project your helpline participates in ends, and you no longer need to collect that piece of data. It helps keep your forms tidy, and reduces time spent by your volunteers, if these unnecessary fields are hidden from the form entirely. This cleanup can be done at any time, but the end of the year is a perfect time to review the relevancy of your form’s fields. To learn more, read this related help article.
Disable Inactive Custom Fields in Contact Forms from Appearing in Statistics Call Content Filters
If you’ve made changes to your Contact Forms, and set any custom fields to ‘inactive’ because they were no longer being used, now is a good time to review those inactive custom fields, and determine if the setting to ‘Use as a filter in Statistics’ should be disabled. If you no longer need to run reports on this information, it may help to have that filter removed from the list entirely. This way, your reporting staff will only see applicable filters when applying them to reports, saving them time as they browse through the list of filters. To learn more, read this related help article.
Disable Vols-Staff from Accessing iCarol
It’s likely you had users leave your organization throughout the past year for any number of reasons. Even if you have a process in place already for what to do when users leave your organization, now is a good time to review your Vols-Staff profiles to ensure you’ve disabled users from accessing iCarol, when appropriate. This not only keeps them from accessing data they are no longer authorized to have, but also ensures they won’t be called or emailed by your active volunteers for help covering a shift. To learn more, read this related help article.
Review Organization Contacts
During the year your designated Billing or Support Contacts may have left your organization, but you forgot to update your iCarol system accordingly with this information. To avoid unpaid invoices or delays in sending Support requests, it’s good to occasionally make sure the proper contacts are assigned to these roles. Read this help article to learn more about your organization’s designated contacts, and how and why to keep them up to date.
It’s best practice to periodically create a backup file of your Resources, in case you need to access them offline for any reason. These files can then be especially helpful if your organization experiences problems with internet connection, but you are still able to handle interactions (i.e. take phone calls, or handle walk-in requests) and provide referrals. You can create this backup file using our standard Resources Data Export tool, or even better, use the Specialized Exports of Resources to Word/Excel feature if your organization is subscribed to it, which provides even more flexibility in how these exports are presented and organized. Use the links above to read the related help articles to learn more about each tool to create a backup of your Resources.
Backup Contact Records
It’s also a good idea to create an offline, back-up copy of your Contact Records for your users to access in case your organization ever experiences problems with internet connection. Depending on the complexity of your forms, you may wish to simply save a printable version of your Contact Forms for your users to print out, or for more complex Contact Forms you may wish to transpose your Contact Forms into an editable document so your users can fill out the form on the computer. Some of our users even create paper copies for use in the event of a full power outage. Then, once internet connection is re-established, you should have a process in place to enter the data into iCarol so the interactions are included in statistical reporting.
It’s likely your organization already has processes in place to complete most of these tasks throughout the year. But if you don’t, now might be a good time to consider if you want to develop any processes for the new year to help you stay on track with completing these tasks on a regular basis so you’re optimizing your iCarol system.
Advocating for the needs of your organization and the clients you serve is a huge component of the overall survival and success of your agency. Some may find the prospect of lobbying elected officials intimidating and confusing, but it’s actually not as complex or scary as it may seem!
We invite you to attend a webinar on this topic on Tuesday, December 11th at 2pm EST. Sara Sedlacek from The Crisis Center of Johnson County will present information that takes the mystery and intimidation out of the advocacy process, helping you get the ear and support of the local, state, and federal officials elected to represent you and the people who benefit from your services.
With legislative sessions beginning in January, now is the time to learn more about how to advocate for your organization.
In recent years, Giving Tuesday has emerged as a counterbalance to the consumer based Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday shopping traditions. It serves as a reminder that the holiday season is about charitable acts of kindness and helping our neighbors in need.
Giving Tuesday is an excellent opportunity for non-profits and charities to tell their communities about the work they do and encourage charitable giving to their organization. Smaller organizations or those that may be completely volunteer based shouldn’t feel incapable of participating — you don’t need a dedicated marketing team to take part in Giving Tuesday. Below are some simple ideas to try that don’t take a large budget or tons of advanced planning.
- Simple Social Media
At a minimum, your social media accounts should publish posts about Giving Tuesday (remember to use the hashtag #GivingTuesday to maximize your reach!). Post throughout the day or schedule your posts ahead of time with social media management software like Hootsuite, Buffer, or Sprout Social. Posts should include a call to action, i.e. do you want them to donate? Volunteer? Learn more about your work? Become an advocate? Depending on the call to action, include links to applicable web pages such as your volunteer opportunity or donation pages. Posts can focus on the work you do, success stories (shared either with client permission or written to remove identifying info), milestones and achievements, goals, and other information that you’d like your community to know about you. Examples of general Giving Tuesday social media posts can be found here. We’re always happy to help you boost your Giving Tuesday social media messages, so be sure to follow us on Twitter so we can follow you back to see your posts in our feed, then we can retweet your message to our followers.
- Share Video or Photos
Images and video are more compelling than text-only posts, and most social media sites say that posts that include them get more views, so use them if you can. Your video doesn’t have to be Academy Award worthy — spontaneous and unrehearsed videos are authentic and give people a sense of who you are. Try a quick interview with a colleague about what they do and why they love working for your agency. Or maybe do a fast tour around the office showing everyone hard at work. It can even be as simple as a 30 second video talking about the work of your agency. Videos should be short and sweet, as most research shows short videos are the most watched. After taking the video you can usually do some light editing or clipping right on your phone before posting it to social media. If you’re feeling brave you can even do a live video right from your Facebook or Twitter app on your phone.
- Visit Your Neighbors
Hopefully your organization is lucky enough to have some supporters in the business community that work with you throughout the year by holding fundraisers or making donations. Giving Tuesday is another perfect opportunity to engage with your biggest fans. Perhaps they’d be willing to participate in a short video. Or maybe they’d do something as simple as keep a donation box or stack of your agency’s brochures at their register or other space in their business. Most businesses, especially those that already support your work, will welcome the opportunity to continue their advocacy during the holiday season.
- Meet and Greet
If your organization is open to the public then Giving Tuesday is a perfect time to invite people in so they can learn more about what you do and become a supporter. Let your reception staff know about Giving Tuesday and equip them with brochures and other materials to give out. Consider hanging a sign in your lobby or outside your building to encourage people to stop in and learn more about your work in celebration of Giving Tuesday. Don’t forget — the holiday season is a great time for recruiting volunteers, too, so make sure applications or volunteer information is on hand as well.
- Work Your Website
Your website is one of your greatest assets, so make sure your Giving Tuesday participation is prominently featured somehow. This can be accomplished through something as simple as a blog post or homepage image, or more advanced like adding a new temporary widget to your site that directs website visitors to your donation page, volunteer application, etc.
- Don’t Let Callers Off the Hook
If when people call you they first hear a general message or listen to a menu routing them to their desired destination, consider temporarily altering your greeting in honor of Giving Tuesday. This can be as simple as a 10-15 second “hello” wishing them a happy holiday season and inviting them to support your work, along with an invitation to visit your website for more information. This won’t add much at all to their wait time but will get your message in front of everyone who calls you.
Raise your hand if this scenario sounds familiar: You, and many of your volunteers and staff, agree that you should add new communication channels like live chat or texting to your not-for-profit’s service offerings. But, there’s one big problem—your CEO, Board of Directors, or funders aren’t yet convinced.
Perhaps they see your current call volume is healthy or growing, and they mistakenly feel this is a sign that communication by voice call is sufficient, just as in demand as ever, and your community doesn’t need or want these new channels. On the surface that takeaway is understandable, but it’s also wrong.
Current call volume is a poor indicator of whether or not people need support through texting/SMS and live chat. Here’s why: If voice calling is the only option to reach you, and you provide needed services over the phone, of course the calls will be there. It’s not about how many people are calling. It’s about who’s not calling.
When you only provide emotional support, information and referral, and crisis intervention over the phone, you’re not serving the members of your community who need your services but won’t—or can’t—use the phone to access them.
We recently asked an iCarol user how she convinced her board to fund her live chat and texting service, and she said, “I just asked them, ‘Have you ever met a teenager?’” Her point being that teens simply don’t call hotlines, at least not in significant numbers. In fact, this is one area where our clients do report declines in call volume. Many of the organizations we serve report that people under age 25 are their smallest represented demographic. Of course, we know youth aren’t free of interpersonal crisis, financial troubles, food insecurity, abuse, suicide ideation, and any number of serious issues. In fact, we know that for many of these issues, youth are desperately in need of outreach and support. According to the CDC, suicide is the second leading cause of death during adolescence through young adulthood. Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence—almost triple the national average, according to a study by the US Department of Justice. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, of the 1 in 5 people living with a mental health condition, half developed the condition by age 14 and 75% by age 24.
Taking that first step to ask for help or advice is tough for anyone. But for teens, expecting that first contact to come in the form of a phone call is even harder. People under 25 are digital natives, meaning they grew up with communication technology like live chat, texting, social media, and other chat apps. Use of these mediums comes naturally to them while voice calling may feel more awkward and less convenient, unnatural even. A 2015 study by the Pew Research Center on teens, technology, and friendships found that teens reserve phone calls for their closest friends, while they prefer building new friendships over text messaging. It takes a level of established trust and familiarity for them to talk over the phone with someone. So, think of your helpline as a new friend. It’s less likely that a young person will dial the phone to talk about a problem or sensitive issue with you, but they may be willing to text you or chat with you.
Privacy and Anonymity
Unfortunately, no matter how common and normal someone’s personal struggle may be, they may feel embarrassed or ashamed about it. There is an enormous effort across many different industries—suicide prevention, mental health, intimate partner or sexual violence to name a few—focused on removing the stigma and societal judgment associated with these issues. While those efforts are certainly helping, shame remains a barrier to getting help for many people in need of assistance. They may have a tough time saying aloud what they’re going through. They may be afraid that someone will overhear the conversation. Think of a LGBTQIA teen who is working through their identity and struggling with how or when to come out to friends or family. They may be very averse to making a phone call that could easily be overheard by parents, siblings, or friends. Or, consider a young woman who has recently been raped or sexually assaulted by someone she knew and thought she could trust. She could be feeling shocked, betrayed, and may even be blaming herself. In these and other scenarios, the person is likely feeling scared and vulnerable, and being able to type about it privately, silently, and anonymously with a caring and confidential source may be much more appealing than making a call.
Sometimes the need for silent communication isn’t so much about preference as it is about self-preservation. Voice communication could actually prove dangerous in certain situations. A few years ago there was a very powerful ad shown during the Superbowl by the group NO MORE. The ad featured shots of the interior of a home in disarray, with items knocked over and strewn on the floor. As we see these visuals we hear a recorded 9-1-1 call between a woman and an operator, though oddly the woman is trying to order a pizza. At first confused and taken aback, the 9-1-1 operator realizes that the woman’s “pizza” call is a ploy to foil an abusive partner because she is unable to call out for help but needs an officer to visit the home. You can watch the ad here.
The ad reminds us of the importance of silent communication for the purposes of safety in certain scenarios, and even 9-1-1 and other emergency centers are responding by text-enabling their services. Not all situations are as dire as the one shown in the ad where there is an active, life-threatening attack. While some may need a silent way to request active rescue, others may need to reach out to discretely chat or exchange SMS messages about their abuse to receive emotional support and empowerment without their abuser overhearing, which could escalate the situation and cause harm.
When providing a community service, it’s important to be inclusive and mindful of the needs of different groups and cultures and mitigate potential access barriers. The Deaf community and people with disabilities in particular can become isolated from essential services when their needs aren’t accommodated.
Offering assistance through live chat and texting can ease the path for people who are disabled or deaf. When someone has a disability affecting their speech in some way, verbal communication can not only be less therapeutic, but it can add frustration to their situation. However, they may find written communication a viable alternative. And, while there are interpretation services such as video relay available to the Deaf community, many would prefer to communicate directly with a helpline counselor without a third party present, especially when discussing sensitive or private issues. Written communication directly between the deaf person and an organization’s volunteer or staff member may help them feel more connected with the agency and, by extension, any plans, referrals, or problem-solving strategies they arrived at with the specialist’s help.
Adding new communication channels to your service offerings requires a culture shift and open mind among leadership, program managers, and frontline staff alike. While there are some who need convincing, we hope by now the evidence is clear: Use of communication channels like chat or SMS/texting is not a passing fad. They have become widely adopted, permanent fixtures in our society. Offering these service alternatives is not just smart business practice needed to remain relevant, but a vital form of outreach to populations that find themselves cut off from needed services only offered on traditional channels.
iCarol offers multiple ways for you to retrieve the data you put into your system. You can use our Statistics area to access dozens of available-on-demand charts and graphs that present information that our clients most commonly need to meet their reporting requirements. You can also apply numerous filters to these reports, drilling directly in to uncover the desired information. This area is a sufficient source of information for most of your basic reporting needs.
But, we understand that others may want or need to run cross tabulations, pivot tables, or otherwise customize their reporting experience a bit further. Our users can extract their raw data files for further analysis in external programs like Microsoft Access or Excel, or simply export the data for offline storage. These data tables contain every last detail about activities like your shifts, volunteer and staff profiles, the records in your resource database, and contact records including the data from contact record text entry fields, among other activities.
Our philosophy is this: The data you put into iCarol is YOUR data— we are simply the stewards of it by keeping it stored and protected for you, and so of course you should have access to it as needed. Many of our users choose to go to the Admin Tools area of iCarol to export this data on a regular basis. However, this does require taking a few steps to initiate the download, then waiting for the export to complete before you can begin your analysis.
We’ve created an enhancement to the Admin Tools export area: Scheduled Exports. Using this feature, our users can schedule an automatic export to occur. This export can be delivered in your iCarol system just as the manual exports, or you can set a path to a S/FTP that you’ve provided for this data to be delivered to.
Each iCarol customer is allotted one free monthly scheduled export to use in their system.
This feature is also available as a subscription — you may add on several scheduled exports to your iCarol system for a nominal monthly cost. When you subscribe to this feature, you may choose from multiple time frames for the scheduled exports to occur: Weekly, Monthly, Quarterly, or Annually. If you find yourself needing to export information on a repeat basis throughout your reporting cycles, having these files exported automatically is a convenient and time-saving solution.
To add your free monthly scheduled export, log into iCarol and navigate to the Help area to read our detailed Help Articles with step-by-step instructions (simply search for “Scheduled Export”).
And, if you want to save even more time and have more exports automatically delivered on a recurring basis, open a case with the Support Team to get started!
The goal of iCarol’s blog is to provide interesting, helpful, and relevant information to our readers, who are typically volunteers or staff members of helplines and not-for-profit organizations located around the world, as well as people in executive and leadership roles, and other stakeholders. This group includes people who use iCarol, and also those who don’t.
Some of our best and most popular blog posts have come from helpline professionals who have a unique perspective to offer our readers. We’re always looking for new bloggers to join us. Here are some suggestions for topics to write about:
- How your helpline handles a specific problem/topic that may be common in the helpline industry
- Your thoughts or stance on a particular issue impacting helplines, or impacting larger industries of which helplines are a part (i.e. suicide prevention, mental health, addiction, LGBTQIA, sexual and/or domestic violence, problem gambling, etc.)
- Policies, procedures, thought processes, or philosophies on various topics that come up
- Blogs about funding — tips on how to get it, where to search for it, how to write a good grant or proposal, or how to convince your board or CEO to fund something that your helpline needs
- Detail on partnerships you’ve formed that have ultimately helped your service thrive or improve service delivery. This could be partnerships with local law enforcement, emergency departments, counseling offices, organizations you commonly refer to, and more…
- How-tos or tips for working with certain populations
- Share information about how you use iCarol that may be helpful to other users
- Going beyond service delivery — How do you market your program? How do you advertise and make people aware of your service? What outside resources do you turn to for help?
- What events or conferences do you attend and why should other helpline professionals attend them?
And those are just a few ideas for the types of blogs we’re looking for. We welcome your own ideas and proposals for topics beyond what is listed above.
Once you submit it to us, we’ll review your submission. If chosen for publishing, we’ll set up a brief bio and byline for you, and when we publish your blog we’ll also link back to your organization’s website. In exchange we’ll ask that you also link to this blog using the outlets available to you, such as your own organization’s blog, newsletter, social media accounts, etc.
Original and exclusive content is great, however any material you may have previously written that was published elsewhere is welcome, so long as you or someone from your agency authored it and you have ownership over it and are authorized to cross-post it with us.
Interested? Want to submit an idea, a finished blog, or simply learn more? Please for more information! You can also check out past guest blogs here.
The Automated Verification Request/Response (AVR) feature in iCarol helps you keep resource records reliable and up-to-date, and saves hundreds of hours when compared to sending manual emails, letters, or making phone calls. But, you may find over time the list of Requests sent by you, or your organization, may become long and therefore hard to determine what requests are still open.
If you use the AVR feature, it’s also likely your organization has setup a Verification Process, in which you set a certain number of times you’ll reach out to an organization requesting an update be made, and specify the ways in which you’ll reach out to organizations. For example, you may have a Verification Process setup where you send 2 emails to an organization, then if they don’t respond X weeks after the 2nd email is sent, you may try calling the organization twice, and so on and so forth.
For this reason, and more, it’s helpful to keep the list of open Requests updated so it can be used as a tool to help keep track of your Verification Process. You can keep this list updated using the buttons at the bottom of each Request to ‘Close’ or ‘Hide’ the request, depending on your desired outcome, in combination with the filters available on this page for which ‘Existing Verification Requests’ you want to include in this list.
Updates were recently made to the buttons that control which Requests appear on the list as Open, which ones appear as Closed, and which ones are Hidden. The updates made these buttons more meaningful and user-friendly, making it so each button has a slightly different outcome. The three buttons available to choose from are ‘Hide this request on the list’, ‘Mark the Request as Closed’, and ‘Mark as Verified and Close’, and each button causes different changes to happen within the resource records included in the Request you’ve selected.
Depending on which button you choose, the changes are as follows:
- ‘Mark the Request as Closed’ will:
- change the status in the list of requests to ‘Closed’ so it can be filtered from appearing in the list
- cause no change to the ‘Last Verified…’ or ‘Verifier’s…’ data
- make the Request links sent to verifiers inactive, making it impossible to submit a Response for this particular Request
- ‘Mark the Request as Verified and Close’, will:
- change the status in the list of requests to ‘Closed’ so it can be filtered from appearing in the list
- change existing date in the ‘Last Verified…’ and ‘Verifier’s…’ fields, unless a Response has been submitted by a resource included in the Request
- make the Request links sent to verifiers inactive, making it impossible to submit a Response for this particular Request
- ‘Hide this request on the list’, will:
- cause no change to the ‘Last Verified…’ or ‘Verifier’s…’ data
- permanently remove the Request from appearing in the list of requests on the left side of the page; once you do this, there is no way to un-hide the request
- make the Request links sent to the verifiers remain active, making it possible for a verifier to still submit a Response for this particular Request
After you have your Requests marked as ‘Close’ or ‘Hide’, you can use the filters at the top of the Automated Verification Requests page to show only ‘Sent’ Requests, which are any Requests where you haven’t chosen to ‘Close’ or ‘Hide’, or you can use the filters to show only ‘Closed’ requests.
When you choose to use each button is entirely up to you and your organization, and should be based off your internal processes, but the information outlined in this blog provides all the details and information you’ll need to make the best decision for the work you do! For more information about how to use this tool, you can read the help article ‘How to close or hide an Automated Verification Request’.
From April 26th through the 29th, Polly McDaniel, Director of Business Development, and Rachel Wentink, Vice President, Operations, will be in Washington, DC for Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) Conference.
For nearly 100 years, CWLA has existed as a coalition of hundreds of private and public agencies that work to serve children and families who are vulnerable. Their expertise, leadership and innovation on policies, programs, and practices help improve the lives of millions of children across the United States, though their work makes a positive impact worldwide. They envision a world where every child will grow up in a safe, loving, and stable family, and focus on children and youth who may have experienced abuse, neglect, family disruption, or a range of other factors that jeopardize their safety, permanence, or well-being. CWLA also focuses on the families, caregivers, and the communities that care for and support these children.
We’re very excited to attend this conference for the first time in 2018. iCarol serves many clients who work directly in this space and use our solution to log their contacts with families and caregivers, and connect vulnerable families with resource information using the built-in service inventory that iCarol offers. So that we can continue serving them well and add more such agencies to the iCarol family, we’re eager to meet more of these organizations in person at the conference so we can continue to learn about their needs and see how iCarol might assist them improve the quality of life for children everywhere.
We’ve long promoted the idea that data sharing can help our clients build coalitions and partnerships, make a greater positive impact in their communities, and create new revenue streams for the organizations. One way we’ve adapted iCarol to make this easier for them is to build support for the Open Referral data standard in iCarol. If you like, before you read about the announcements we’ll go over in this blog, you may wish to get a refresher course on what data standards are, how they make such collaboration possible across different software systems and databases, and why Open Referral in particular has been adopted in iCarol.
Today we’re excited to announce two new and exciting iCarol Resource API enhancements, which now extends support for the Open Referral’s HSDS 1.1 schema and a full list of resources. Both of these new enhancements are designed to help you with your sharing collaborations and to access new funding opportunities.
iCarol is the first major I&R Software vendor to support emitting resource data that is fully compliant with HSDS 1.1 and the HSDA specification. For over a year iCarol subscribers have had access to downloading resource files from iCarol in the HSDS 1.0 schema, but we are pleased to now announce support for an updated HSDS 1.1 schema in the iCarol Resource API! You can read more about this schema here: Human Services Data Specification (HSDS). This schema creates a common language for software applications to share information across platforms.
Our clients in current sharing relationships using our iCarol Resource API have also asked for a way to access a full list of all resources available in their system, or even better, to filter that list by records last updated. We are happy to announce a new Resource API feature allowing a simplified, unpaged list of resources to be returned allowing your data partners to better access and use your resources in external projects.
We know that the ability to share data and to collaborate with your partners both within and outside of iCarol is important to you. Sharing resources can also open up new revenue opportunities in your communities. If you would like more information about how iCarol can help you success with your sharing and collaborative projects, contact us — we are here to help!
Are you concerned that the volume of Chat or Text traffic coming through to your service is lower than you were expecting it would be? Or, are you in the planning stages of adding a Chat or Text service to your center and want to develop a plan for alerting the community to this new way to access your program?
Join us on Monday, April 9 at 2pm EDT for a Q&A webinar with a panel of staff members operating successful Chat and Text programs to hear about how they communicated their service offerings to their communities. Can’t make it? Fear not! We’ll have the recording available to watch at your convenience.
Learn More and Register