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Managing Shift Schedules During Vacation Periods

During the summer, and other common vacation periods, staff and volunteers may need to adjust the time they serve at your agency. You want to ensure that your calendar is up-to-date with all changes and the following iCarol features are there to assist.

Unregister from a shift

If a volunteer or staff member has already signed up for or been assigned to a shift, but realizes that they cannot serve the shift, they can un-register from the shift. To do so, the volunteer or staff member will use the shifts area of iCarol to navigate to the day of their shift, and will click on their name in the list of shifts. A pink box will appear to the right, and in that box, there is an “Unregister” button which they should click.

Unregister

Clicking this button will remove the person’s name from the shift, and it will revert to an “Open” shift so someone else can sign up for it.

Shift Substitution

This feature is similar to the “Unregister a shift” feature, but goes an extra step and facilitates the coverage for shift assignment changes. If a volunteer or staff member has already signed up for or been assigned to a shift, but realizes that they cannot serve the shift, they can ask for a substitution. To do so, the volunteer or staff member will use the shifts area of iCarol to navigate to the day of their shift, and will click on their name in the list of shifts. A pink box will appear to the right, and in that box, there is an “Ask for Substitution” button which they should click.

Unregister

Clicking this button will send an email to all users indicating that the volunteer or staff person is looking for a substitute, and will highlight the shift in yellow so it is easily spotted. If someone would like to substitute, they would navigate to this shift in the Shifts area of iCarol, and click the Accept button.

Shift substitution

Whether or not you allow un-registration or shift substitutions, and how soon before the start of a shift a person can unregister or ask for a substitution, are settings Admin’s can control via the Shifts tab in Admin Tools.

Exceptions to Repeating Assignments

If you have members that are assigned to the same shift over a period of time, the repeating assignment is a great tool to use. This tool allows you to collectively schedule those repeating assignments and it also handles exceptions, such as to remove the person from the shift during a particular time span when they will be on vacation. To do so, use the shifts area of iCarol to navigate to the first shift within a repeating shift assignment that they would like to unregister for and click on their name. A pink box will appear to the right, and in that box, there is a link labelled “Repeating assignment” which they should click.

Exceptions to repeat assignments

This will cause the following box to pop-up:

Repeating Assignment Tool

Firstly, the volunteer or staff person should click the radio button next to “Remove”. Next, using the drop-down boxes, they should indicate what time frame (every, every other, each month’s first, etc.) and what day of the week they would like to be removed from. The date next to “between” will be defaulted to the date of the shift the volunteer or staff person is adjusting. The volunteer or staff person should adjust the date next to “and”, or check the box next to “no end date” to remove themselves from every shift into the future. Finally, they should click the “Make these changes” button.

If you have any questions about these tools, please do not hesitate to submit a case to the support team via the online case management tool, found in the Help menu in iCarol.

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How Agency, Program, and Site structure displays

In iCarol, we offer a resource structure, or hierarchy, called Agency, Program, Site. If you’d like to learn more about this structure, you can download our guide about this information. The Agency – Program – Site hierarchy in iCarol follows the structure recommended by the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS) and is most often used by those agencies using the AIRS taxonomy. Using this structure, at the 3rd or 4th level, (the 4th level being programatsite), has an effect on which information is displayed when viewing agency and program records within iCarol.

An agency is a legally recognized organization that delivers services. (edit screen identified by a grey ribbon) The agency is the main location of the resource where the administrative functions occur, where the organization’s director is generally housed and where it is licensed for business. An agency may or may not deliver direct services from this location.

Sites are the physical locations (eg. branches) from which clients access services provided by an agency. (edit screen identified by blue ribbon) If only one locations exists, all information may be stored in the agency record. If multiple sites exist, then ALL information recommended for Site must be stored there, since those fields will be displayed instead of the agency version.

The display hierarchy is: Program-at-Site (if using) Site / Program (if using)/ Agency (if a piece of information exists at all three levels, Site info will display

A service/program record describes the types of assistance/service an agency delivers to its clients. (edit screen identified by green ribbon) If only one program exists for an agency, all information may be stored in the agency record for that resource.

Program-at-Site contains specific details about a program that are available at a site. (edit screen identified by beige ribbon)

It is helpful to understand what information from which type of record (agency, program, site or programatsite) will display so you can made educated decisions on what information to place in each record so that referrals given to your callers as an accurate as possible.

Our Support Team can provide you with an Excel document that shows what information will be displayed when viewing agency and program records. There are two tabs in the Excel document, one for those using the three level hierarchy (agency, program, site), and one for those using the 4 level hierarchy (agency, program, site, programatsite). If you’d like us to send you this document, please open a Case with support using the Case Management tool found in the Help section of your iCarol system.

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Calculating your resource database’s “complexity”

We mentioned recently that at this year’s AIRS conference a workshop called Resource Database Assembly: The Next Generation provided some inspiration in making a measurement available within iCarol that calculates the complexity of your resource database. We have now added this tool to iCarol.

Resource Complexity is a concept first suggested by several AIRS luminaries. By using approximations, it is used to calculate how complex your resource database is and how many hours per year it would take to manage them using the AIRS standards. For each Agency record, it gets 1 point for every Site record and 2 points for every Program record belonging to it. The Agencies are then grouped by their point score into the following categories:

Simple: 0-10 points
Moderate: 11-20 points
Difficult: 21-40 points
Complex: 41 points and higher

Once grouped and counted, you then assume an average number of hours per year for a trained worker to manage those resources, as follows:

Simple: 1-5 hours (average of 2.5 hours)
Moderate: 5-10 hours (average of 7.5 hours)
Difficult: 10-20 hours (average of 15 hours)
Complex: 20-40 hours (average of 30 hours)

With the total number of hours calculated to manage your entire database, you can then estimate how many Full Time Equivalent employees you may need to manage your database. There are 2,080 hours in a standard work year (40 hours per week for 52 weeks) but the hours available to an employee are usually less than that to account for vacation, sick days, training, meetings and other administrative work that will reduce their hours available to do resource database management.

Resource Complexity

To use this tool, simply navigate to Statistics and click on the Resources tab. The values for the assumptions of Resource Database Complexity described earlier obviously greatly affect the calculations. They have been in use by a major US 211 center since 2009, who claim they very accurately predict workload. Your own results may vary. If you would like this tool to allow you to modify these assumptions, you can contact our Support team using the Case Management tool found in the Help section of your iCarol system.

A large chunk of time spent managing records according to AIRS standards involves keeping those resources up-to-date. When records are regularly checked for accuracy and updated, you know your clients are receiving helpful, good information. This reduces the frustration and feelings of being overwhelmed experienced by those who may already be in crisis or an otherwise difficult situation. Even a database full of records rated as “simple” will take thousands of work hours to manage.

If you check your database’s complexity and feel overwhelmed at the number of hours it may take to keep your database in check, then it’s time to consider iCarol’s Automated Verification tool. With this upgrade you can seek out the resource records that need to be verified using the same search tools as you would to give referrals, with the additional tool of date parameters showing when the records were last verified. Next, automatically send an authorized worker of that agency or program an email asking them to review the information you have on file and make suggestions or updates. They’ll be given a peek at the information as it exists in your live database so they can make those suggestions. Finally, your Resource Manager can review this information and choose to accept what’s been submitted or make some of their own tweaks first, and then apply the update to the resource record. What might have taken weeks of phone tag to accomplish has been squashed down to a fraction of the time. To find out more about Automated Verification and how it can assist you with keeping your resources updated, sign in to your iCarol system and check out the video.

We hope you enjoy this new ability to view the complexity of the resources in your iCarol database and that it helps you analyze your staffing needs pertaining to keeping your Resource Database accurate and up-to-date.

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Exporting a subset of your referral database to Word and Excel

Often times our clients who do Information & Referral (I&R) need to export some or all of their resource or referral database to share with a third party. And while all Admins have access to the Data Export tool that gives them an Excel-readable export of all records and all fields, a more refined approach is needed for specific requests. For example, you might need to create a nicely formatted Microsoft Word document of just the Child Day Care providers in a particular city and just with a handful of informational fields. Or you might need to create an Excel listing of Food Pantries that serve Veterans in a three-county area. As well, you need to produce both of these files once per month and distribute them to your partners.

You can imagine that laboriously exporting all of your resource data and then laboriously removing fields and rows, then formatting it just the way you want to, could be very time consuming – especially if you have to do it on an ongoing basis.

That’s where iCarol’s Specialized Resource Exports to Word and Excel comes to the rescue. With it, you can create an unlimited number of “templates” with a targeted set of conditions and formatting to export just the resource data you want to Word or Excel, and have it formatted in the font type and size of your choice.

You start by naming a new template, choosing either Word or Excel, and indicating what record types (Agency, Program, Site) you want to be included.

Template summary

Next you specify which standard and custom fields you want included.

specify fields

Then you add any filters you would like to limit the exported records. Geographic filters indicate that records physically located within, or that are designated to serve, one or more areas are the records to be included. These areas can be as small as single postal codes, towns, cities, counties, regions, states/provinces or entire countries. You can even mix and match a number of different types of geographic areas.

Depending on what sort of categorization scheme you use – the AIRS Taxonomy or your own custom categorization – you can also add filters to include only those resources that area assigned to one or more of those categories.

Categorization

In addition to the many standard fields available for resources in iCarol, many of our clients add their own custom fields. For any that are either drop-down lists or check-boxes, they too can be added as filters to confine the resources included in the export down to just those assigned to one or more of these custom fields.

After you’ve saved one of these templates, at any time you can tell iCarol to perform an export based on its definition and within a few minutes you’ll have the file ready for your download, use and distribution. As well, we’ve structured the Word documents to make it easy for you to add your own title pages, tables of content, indexes, headers, footers and more. That makes it easy to include the content in a larger document and brand it with your agency’s identifying information.

Final export

If you’d like to add Specialized Resource Exports to your iCarol system and provide your community with targeted resource directories, contact our for more information.

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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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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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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.

flooding

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.

Prevent Repeat Callers from Skewing Your Statistics and Reports

Statistics

If you’re like most helplines, you have several repeat callers who use your services regularly, often more than once per day. Having access to empathetic listeners brings comfort to those with chronic and persistent mental illnesses or developmental disabilities. They access your hotline as a part of their repertoire of daily activities and coping skills that keep them feeling supported and grounded.

They’re an important part of the work you do and they need your services, but have you stopped to think about how their calls affect your statistics?

Data collection on all calls, including those from your repeat callers, is very important. But one individual calling multiple times can skew your numbers on things like gender, age, race, and issues.

One thing we suggest is that you add a question on your Call Report that simply asks your phone worker whether or not the call being logged is from a repeat caller, with ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ options for the answer. This question could also be included on the ‘background’ tab of repeat caller profiles so it can automatically be collected when that profile is used.

Graph with upward trend

If there comes a time where you need to exclude repeat calls from your data, now you have the option to do so. When it comes time to run a statistical report, add that question as a Call Content Filter. Select ‘No’ as the filter if you’d like to exclude all of your repeat callers from that report. A filter with the answer ‘Yes’ will show you just your repeat callers’ information. Applying no call content filter at all will show data from all your callers, repeat and non-repeat.

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