This week countries all around the world honor the sacrifices made by members of their armed forces. Remembrance Day, celebrated in Canada, the UK, and Australia among other nations, honors the brave men and women who gave their lives in the line of duty. In the US, those who have lost their lives are honored during Memorial Day earlier in the year, while November 11 is a day to honor and celebrate living members of the military.
Each of these holidays, whether in remembrance of fallen soldiers or in recognition of those still with us, is a chance to reflect on the service and sacrifice of our military personnel, and is a time to ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to thank them, support them, and give back to them.
Military service is honorable, and extremely rewarding. Members of the armed forces experience a bond with their fellow service members that is unlike any other, a built-in family and network of support. Military service means receiving world class skills training and professional experience that can lead to an amazing career path. For those who wish to see and experience places and cultures all around the world, and help members of other nations as well as their own, the military can be a wonderful place to achieve those goals.
But as we well know, members of the military face a range of unique challenges on and off the battlefield. They experience long periods of time away from loved ones. If they receive injuries during service it can mean long and laborious recovery, and sometimes permanent physiological damage. They also encounter psychological injury from the trauma of war. According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, sometimes in an effort to cope with these experiences, and sometimes for other reasons, substance abuse can become an issue for veterans. In America, 22 veterans each day die by suicide. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans reports that about 12% of homeless adults in the US are veterans. One in four women in the US military, and one in one hundred men, reports an experience with Military Sexual Trauma, according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Certainly, much more should be done to combat these issues.
Each person who enlists is aware of the hardships and dangers, and yet they serve anyway because they love and wish to serve and protect their nation. Regardless of their country, or whether it’s a time of war or peace, the members of our military make an immense sacrifice for their nation and they deserve the highest quality of care and support to face the unique challenges that come with their service.
Our friends at Stop Solider Suicide have a lot of resources and information to share. Check out their website and in particular their blog this Veterans Day.
The Toughest War We've Faced, Stop Soldier Suicide video from Stop Soldier Suicide on Vimeo.
Many of our clients’ helplines serve veterans in some way, even if their organization is not set up or advertised specifically as a veteran’s service. By providing them with crisis intervention, emotional support, advocacy, and information and referral to services, these helplines are doing their part to give back to and honor the members of the military.
November 5th is International Volunteer Managers Day!
Kudos to all you amazing Volunteer Managers out there. You do everything from recruitment to training to supporting and event planning. Check out a great blog by Volunteer Canada and infographic that goes over the 15 Roles that Volunteer Managers play. Your helpline couldn’t run without your great work bringing the talent and time of volunteers to your agency. On behalf of everyone here at iCarol, thank you for what you do!
We recently added a few cosmetic improvements to resource searching that add clarity to your search process as well as save you some time.
First up, the list of automatically suggested terms, whether you use Categories or Taxonomy or are searching by Resource Name, is more clearly defined with lines separating the items while the term you’re hovering over will be highlighted in blue.
Next, page numbers of search results appear not just at the top of the results list, but also at the bottom. So if you’re scrolling down to the bottom of your list and then need to go to page 2, you don’t have to scroll back to the top to move to the next page.
And finally as you assign the resources as given referrals, the main search page will reflect that with a “Referral made” note at each resource that has already been assigned as a referral. The ‘Referral made’ note will also appear while on the details page of that resource record.
These are just a few small tweaks but we hope they’ll make a positive impact on your work flow by saving you some time as you navigate through the referral search and assignment process.
Our resource search allows for you to set several parameters and filters to help you find what you need. However, logged in users to iCarol can also use an advanced search system called “Query Language” to even further refine their results.
The Query Language is an advanced search system that allows you to refine search results by looking for specific values in resource record fields. iCarol Admins can turn on this feature in their iCarol system by following these steps:
1. Click Admin Tools in the left hand menu.
2. Click the Resources tab.
3. Scroll down to the “Other settings” section.
4. Click the box next to “Enable Query Language in Resource Searching” to place a check mark there.
5. Click the Save settings button at the top of the page.
How to use the Query Language
1. Log into iCarol from an account with viewing access to the Resource database
2. Click on “Resources” from the left menu, or click on “Search resources” from a call report.
3. Enter a search term in the search text box, and click search (eg. Food)
4. To refine your search results you will add a specific code to the end of the initial search term. The code consists of a short code (or abbreviation) for a resource field, then an equals sign, followed by the value to search. (eg. Food elg=homeless), then click search.
iCarol will then look for records were the original term exists AND where the additional field values exist.
Please note, Query Language searches can be added to Taxonomy, Resources and custom Category searches.
Available Codes for Query Language searches
Code Resource Field Searched (Example)
adr= Exact address (eg. “adr=10025 106 Street”, “adr=Cambridge”)
str= Address Line 1 & 2 (eg. “str=”Jasper”, “str=cambridge”)
loc= City/Town (eg. “loc=Toronto”, “loc=Washinton”)
pcd= Postal/Zip Code (eg. “pcd=”T6K 2W8”, “pcd=91210”)
des= Description (eg. “des=taxes”, “des=women”)
elg= Eligibility (eg. “elg=homeless”, “elg=unemployed”, “elg=low income”)
enm= Main Contact, Senior Worker Verifiers Name (eg. “enm=Carol”, “enm=Neil”)
hrs= Hours Opened (eg. “hrs=9:00am”, “hrs=3:00pm”)
lng= Language (eg. “lng=french”, “lng=spanish”)
acc= Accessibility/wheelchair (eg. “acc=yes”)
Note: Multiple codes can be used on the same search, for example “Food Bank lng=french elg=feed”
Here are a few examples of searches using Query Language.
Below is a taxonomy search for “Food Pantries” with no Query Language codes added. There are 34 resources that meet the search parameters:
In this next search, the Query Language code des=food is added, to find the resources assigned to the taxonomy term Food Pantries that also have the word “food” in their description. This reduces the total number of search results to 22. You can see in the first few results where “food” is found in the description of the agency or program.
And in this final search, two Query Language search codes are added, des=food and loc=Gary. This search will find those resources assigned to the taxonomy term Food Pantries that have the word “food” in their descriptions, and that are also located in Gary. There are now 5 search results.
With these advanced codes added to the search area, you can tell iCarol more specifically what criteria you’d like your search results to meet.
If you have any questions on how to use this feature, please send a request using the Online Case Submission Tool, found in your Help menu, for support.
If you read that headline and thought I was talking about a song by Taylor Swift, please read on. The Great Shakeout is coming and you should get involved.
No, it’s not a song, and it’s not the latest dance craze. The Great Shakeout is an earthquake drill, and it’s held on an annual basis. And the next one is happening next week on October 15th. The Great Shakeout encourages everyone, whether you’re at home, work, or school, to practice what to do during earthquakes, and to improve your preparedness.
Even if you don’t live in an area where earthquakes are a common occurrence, keep in mind that earthquakes can happen anywhere. I never expected to be in an earthquake where I live (Maryland) until August a few years back. There was a 5.8 magnitude earthquake whose epicenter was about 100 miles south of me. I had never felt anything like it before. It was incredibly scary to feel the office floor shift beneath me and feel my building rattle. And for awhile after there was no cell service, and even landlines weren’t connecting. It was scary to not be able to get in touch with family to make sure they were okay. Relatively speaking, it was a mild earthquake, but to a population of people who were mostly unfamiliar with the concept, it was frightening. And in that moment, none of us really knew what we were supposed to do to stay safe.
So it’s a good idea to be prepared, and knowledgeable, before an earthquake hits. Check out The Great Shakeout website for more information. You can participate from anywhere, and it’s really easy to get started. Remember, “Shake out, don’t freak out!”
If you use the ability to send Referrals via SMS (Text message) on your Call Report Forms, we have an exciting new capability to share with you. You can now customize the template used when sending these referrals via SMS message.
There is a default SMS Referral Template which sends information via text message in the following formats:
Agency Name; Agency Phone Number (first found custom-phone or all named phones); Loc: Agency Address Line 1, Agency Address Line 2, Agency Town/District, Agency City, Agency State/Province, Agency Zip/Postal Code
E.g. Elmdale Food Bank; 805-333-3333; Loc: 225 Simi Village Drive, Unit 2, Simi Valley, CA, 93065
Program Name; (first found custom-phone or all named phones); Loc: Program Address Line 1, Program Address Line 2, Program Town/District, Program City, Program State/Province, Program Zip/Postal Code
E.g. Food Hamper; 805-333-3333; Loc: 225 Simi Village Drive, Unit 2, Simi Valley, CA, 93065
There are two ways that phone numbers will be added to your default SMS Template:
- If Custom-named phones fields have been used on the Agency or Program record the first Phone Number found will be included in the SMS Referral, all other custom-named phones or named phone numbers will be omitted. (e.g. If you use the 3rd and 4th phone number fields, only the 3rd phone number will be included in the SMS Referral.)
- If you use the Agency Phone Numbers (named phone numbers) all of these numbers will be included in the SMS Referral in the order Fax Number, Toll Free, TTY, After Hours, Business Line, Hotline, Out of Area. (e.g. 403-215-5454 403-5487-2485 800-5428, etc.)
This is how such referrals by SMS may look as you prepare your report form. Note that the default SMS Referral template does not include labels or descriptions for included phone numbers.
So, how do you go about customizing the appearance of these SMS messages?
Creating a Customized SMS Referral Template
To modify your custom SMS Referral Template, contact iCarol Support by submitting a case through your Help menu. In your request include the following:
- The name of the Call Report(s) you would like the custom SMS Referral Template to be used for
- The Resource record fields you would like to include in your template for Agency and Program referrals.
- Any labels for those fields (or groups of fields, such as “address:” or “Loc:”).
- Provide separate details for what you would like SMS referrals to look like for Agency and Program records, iCarol Support will then work to incorporate all of your requests into one Template.
Here is an example of what SMS Referral Template could look like, at this time we are only able to include fields located on Agency or Program records, any values located on your ProgramAtSite or Sites won’t be available for your template.
AgencyName; Short Description; Hotline: Hotline, TollFree: Tollfree, Main: BusinessLine; Loc: Address Line 1, Address Line 2, City, County, Zip Code
ProgramName offered by AgencyName; Short Description; Hotline: Hotline, TollFree: Tollfree, Main: BusinessLine; Loc: Address Line 1, Address Line 2, City, County, Zip Code
(Note in the Starter Template Examples, labels will be italicized to help identify them – these labels will not appear in your SMS Referral Template if values do not exist in the field. e.g. Only a handful of your Program records have Toll Free Numbers, but when the toll free number exists it’s important that it is sent to the caller.)
If your organization wishes to use this feature, or if you have any additional questions on how to use it, please send a request via the Online Case Submission Tool, found in your Help menu, for support. Not sending out referrals by SMS message? Contact our team today to get started.
As part of Automated Resource Verification, your Resource Managers and other staff will create email templates to be sent to verifiers working at the various agencies, programs, and sites in your community. These emails include a “placeholder” that will appear as a generic tag in your template email, but when the email is opened by the verifier, they’ll see a very customized item there instead.
One example is the placeholder @EditURL. You’ll use this placeholder in your template to choose where the verification URL will appear in the email. Another example is @ResourceNames which will be the placeholder for the names of the record(s) being verified.
When your Automated Verification email is opened by the recipient, these placeholders take a new form. @EditURL will become the customized URL that they’ll click to take them to their resource entry as it exists in your referral database, so that the verifier can review and suggest changes. @ResourceNames will become the unique name of the record(s) being verified.
We’ve recently added additional placeholders that you can use to give even more guidance or direction to your resource verifiers when they receive your email. The descriptions and suggested usage for these placeholders are found when creating your email template.
Automated Verification can potentially save you hundreds of hours of work or more depending on the size of your resource database. What may once have been many days of phone tag or sending individual emails to your community resource contacts can be done with a simple, single email to a number of resources all at once, each verifier receiving their own unique URL and simple way to update their information.
Want to learn more about Automated Resource Verification, or perhaps you’d like to trial this feature to see if it’d work well for you? Check out our tutorial video in the Help section of your iCarol system, or open a case with us if you’d like to know more.
Earlier this year, iCarol competed among other software solutions to be the Customer Relationship Management Software for the statewide Texas Information and Referral Network, also known as Texas 2-1-1.
We’re excited to share with you that the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) has chosen iCarol for its 2-1-1 Texas program. We are, of course, very proud to have won not just the business but the confidence of yet another significant and wide-reaching information and referral provider. Coupled with other large 2-1-1 networks currently using the iCarol solution, we feel this is a strong endorsement of our product and our team.
We work very hard to stay informed and current with the needs of the industry through the various groups, training sessions, conferences, and other networking opportunities available to us. But, we owe a degree of gratitude to our clients as well. Over the years your ideas, feature requests, and custom projects have helped build iCarol into the helpline software solution it is today. It is due in part to your expertise and input that we’ve developed a solution that continues to attract helplines from all over the world. We’re honored to play a small part in the positive impact you make in your communities.
We hope you’ll join us in welcoming the Texas Information and Referral Network to the iCarol family.
September is considered the peak of hurricane season in the Atlantic, but disaster can strike all year ’round and in all regions. Earthquakes, wildfires, blizzards, tornados, floods, super storms – all areas have seen their share of destructive events.
Non-profit helplines play a large role in any community’s disaster plan. Local governments often partner with these helplines and advertise their contact information during disasters as a place to contact for non-emergency information and referral. Information about shelters, emergency food or water drops, road closures, and shelter-in-place tips, are just a few examples of the information that these helplines can relay to the public in a local emergency.
The availability of such services in times of disaster is crucial – they serve as a way for residents to get much needed information and listening support, while also reducing the burden on local government and diverting non-emergency calls away from 9-1-1.
Providing this service presents unique challenges to helpline staff, but iCarol offers a number of solutions to reduce the stress of being there for your community during emergencies.
Benefit from Partnerships
During a disaster helplines in a region often need to work together to coordinate response. Some disasters may force one or more local helplines to close entirely, or at a minimum a helpline may be short staffed. Using iCarol you can easily share responsibility for managing call/text/chat volume and resource maintenance by using our collaborative options.
We’ve discussed in previous posts how you can build chat or text networks using iCarol, and such a collaboration would come in extra handy if your center needs to shut down or simply offload some traffic during a disaster. And most phone systems allow for the easy transfer or forwarding of calls.
With Call Report sharing capabilities, forms used by one center can be set up for use by another helpline in the event calls, texts, or chats are being routed elsewhere. By setting up these shared forms, the original call center can be certain that the center answering calls is filling out all the necessary information and collecting the essential data as if the call was being handled by the original center. You’ll still be able to review the forms and collect statistics on those calls handled by your partner.
Collaboration is not just limited to call reporting forms, however. Helplines can also share a database of community referrals and resources with other helplines so that in the event of an emergency, these helplines can access resources not just in their own community, but elsewhere in the region. Further, helplines can partner together to not only access this database to give referrals to help seeker, but can also share in the responsibility of editing these resources.
Collect Essential Data
In the event of a disaster, helplines will likely have specific data they wish to collect on those disaster-related calls, as well as needing a way to separate those calls, chats, or texts from others that may ring through to the center. It’s also very common for local governmental and other agencies to request this data from the helplines so they can monitor the needs of the community and respond accordingly for this and future events.
The key to collecting data in iCarol is found within the customizable report forms you fill out for each client interaction. Using the robust form editing tools, staff can add necessary questions and other fields for data collection when needed, so as soon as the disaster-related calls come in they are ready to collect the necessary information on the form. Staff can also use this capability to create a simple checkbox where call takers can note that the call was related to the disaster event, which will help identify these calls during statistical reporting later.
When it’s time to report on the helpline’s calls, staff can run various spreadsheets, reports, and charts. Results are available in real-time and can be filtered based on whether or not the call was related to the disaster, making it easy to run reports specific to the event, excluding unrelated calls.
Offer Alternative Channels
Offering alternative channels becomes especially important during a disaster. Phone lines may be down or it may be easier for people in need to text you during these trying times. Plus the mobility of texting means that someone can reach out to you from anywhere, even if they’ve been displaced from their home.
With iCarol you have complete control over when your messaging service is available, so you can very quickly create a shift and open up your channels as needed. You could even have a special portal specifically for disaster that has its own special report form that collects all the necessary information. And remember with Messaging you can offer all the same referrals and run the same statistical reports as you would for phone calls.
Increase Your Bandwidth
An emergency in your community means your volume could increase, so reaching your volunteers and staff is important. Inside iCarol you can promptly send out an email blast or mass text to alert your staff and volunteers of information they need to know, or ask for additional staffing. Quickly adjust your shift calendar to accommodate more open spots and assign your workers to shifts on the fly.
If you’d like to specifically track disaster staffing, consider creating new shifts and naming them accordingly for easy reporting. Analyze the hours worked for use in future planning, or to apply for future grants or compensation that may be offered by local governments and other organizations.
iCarol can be reached from any internet connected device, so you could explore work-from-home options for disaster staffing. You may wish to temporarily turn off any restrictions in place for which computers can access iCarol, or grant certain staff the ability to certify their home computers.
Provide Critical Information and Referral
During any sort of emergency, information could develop rapidly and change throughout the event. As your resource managers receive information from the various community agencies or collect information released by your local government, they can respond quickly. Update resource records accordingly, or create new ones with just a few clicks. Use the iCarol News area to post the most up-to-date information; it’ll be front and center when your volunteers first sign on so they won’t miss the latest updates.
Much like we mentioned earlier with alternative channels, a disaster could mean that even more people are seeking information in alternative ways. Help seekers likely want self-service options to find resources. This is where your Public Resource Directory comes in. Visitors to your website can use an embedded search of your live resource database right on your website to find what they need.
You can even quickly add highlighted resources during a disaster event to point your visitors right to the information and resources they need. You can also set up advanced, guided searches that are both visually appealing and direct your community to the right resources
Our API is another option for referral sharing, giving you and your developers access to your resource data so it can be used in whatever ways you see fit, such as creating a home built web directory, mobile apps, and more.
Providing assistance to your community during a disaster is a lot of work, but having so many time-saving tools integrated in your helpline software will take some of the stress out of the event, and your seamless response will prove that your helpline is an invaluable resource in your community. And even if your center doesn’t use iCarol, I hope this blog has sparked some ideas for how your helpline can plan ahead and more easily provide services when your community needs it most.
Peanut butter and jelly. Chocolate and caramel. Peas and carrots. Some things just go well together!
We love it when we can make features in iCarol work well together, too. Take Automated Resource Verification and the Public Resource Directory as an example. By themselves they each have a specific and valuable role to play with your referral management. And these two features are now working together in new and exciting ways!
As you’re already aware, help seekers like having self-service options, like searching online for resources. Having a Public Resource Directory (PRD) means you can embed a live search of your iCarol resource database right on your website for easy access by the public. And of course there’s lots of flexibility and control over what is seen by the public and what isn’t.
But help seekers aren’t the only ones using your PRD. Staff at your local community organizations are likely going online to check out your resource directory to see what you have listed. If they see something that’s incorrect or needs an update, they could call or email you. If you use Automated Verification, you could then send them a verification request that lets them quickly and easily see what you have on record, make suggested updates, and send that back to you so you can review and update records with the click of a button.
But let’s see if we can simplify that process even further: Now, when you have both the Automated Verification and the Public Resource Directory features enabled in your iCarol system, you have access to an advanced feature that allows Resource record verifiers to initiate a new verification request directly from their Resource records in the PRD.
On your PRD, for resource records that include an email address in one of the available email fields of the record, the public will see a disclaimer on the details page of the Resource record that asks:
The public user has to fill out the security captcha, then click the button below, and this tells iCarol to send the verification request using the template and settings you’ve specified (See below for more on that). The request will be sent to the email specified on the resource, requesting a review. And if a record does not have an email then the disclaimer, captcha, and email button will not appear at all for that record, so verification Requests cannot be initiated.
When someone in the public initiates that verification request on your PRD, your staff with the “Resource verification requests from service providers” setting enabled on the Notification tab of their profile will receive an email.
And the resource verifier, depending on the email on record and the saved Automated Verification settings, will receive an email with their unique verification link.
So, how do you get this to work for you? Well first, you must subscribe to both Automated Verification and the Public Resource Directory. If you want to start subscribing or just want to learn more about these features, please contact our support team. Not using iCarol yet? Please contact us for a demo and free trial!
If you already subscribe to both of these features, setting up this advanced tool is a snap. Just take the following steps:
1. On the PRD settings page, make sure that the highlighted setting below is checked, and click the Save button.
2. In your Automated Verification settings, create a new email template that will be used for these PRD initiated requests, and check the box for “Use this template to email users on the Public Resource Directory when one of their saved records is updated” before saving the template.
3. Choose the Automated Verification settings you’d like to apply to all the PRD initiated requests by either finding an existing Automated Verification Request where suitable settings were chosen, or create a new request and set it up how you’d like all PRD initiated requests to be set.
4. Use the ‘Saved Settings’ tool to save these settings for PRD initiated requests. Make sure you check the highlighted setting before clicking the ‘Save’ button.
Once you’ve taken these steps, you are all set up! Now if someone visits your PRD and notices that their resource record is due for an update or needs a correction, they can easily initiate the request and receive the link to update their records. Not using the PRD or Automated Verification yet? Or maybe you’re using one, but not the other? Contact us today to get both of these features working together to boost your referral service!