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Research Study: Improving Volunteer Retention at Child Helplines By Increasing Satisfaction on Interactions

Guest Blogger Josh Siegel is a PhD Candidate at the University of Amsterdam. His research focuses on service provider well-being. After earning a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona, he moved to Amsterdam, where he obtained a Master’s degree.

Guest blogger views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of CharityLogic/iCarol, or iCarol’s parent company, Harris Computer Systems.

Child helplines offer support and information to children for a wide variety of issues such as abuse and violence, bullying, sexuality, family, homelessness, health and discrimination. As such, child helplines fulfill the United Nations mandate that all children be heard. In 2017, child helplines in 146 countries received over 24 million contacts from children in need of care and protection, and these numbers are rising rapidly. To help meet this growing demand, helplines have introduced online chat as another method of communication. To perform well in this challenging and evolving context, helplines invest a substantial part of their budget into training volunteers extensively on how to provide social support to each child in the form of instrumental (e.g. advice) and emotional (e.g. empathy) support. Like many other non-governmental organizations, child helplines face the challenges of limited resources and volunteer turnover. Volunteers at child helplines play an important role in providing support for children, so keeping them satisfied during encounters is crucial to continue helping children. The purpose of our study was to understand how children’s perceptions of instrumental and emotional support influence volunteer encounter satisfaction, and whether this effect is moderated by a volunteer’s previous encounter experience and levels of interpersonal and service-offering adaptiveness.

Motivation:

From discussions with child helplines, I learned that volunteer turnover is a common concern. The goal of the research was learning how to retain volunteers by keeping them satisfied in their roles. The academic literature about helplines and counseling has found sources of volunteer satisfaction like personal development, and social support from colleagues. However, I was surprised to find that little academic research has explored how volunteers may derive satisfaction from their interactions with children. Since volunteers spend a majority of their shifts talking with children, it seemed like a good place to investigate.

Summary of findings:

When a volunteer feels dissatisfied after a chat with a child, how does this experience affect the volunteer’s next chat?

What was really interesting in this study, is that we were able to collect data from both the child and the volunteer after each chat that they had. This allowed us to understand how a child’s perceptions of the chat influenced the volunteer’s experience. Let me explain what we found.

When volunteers had a chat that they experienced as less satisfying, they felt more satisfied with the next chat, especially when they were able to provide the next child with information and referrals. In our study, we call this providing “instrumental support” and we asked the children the extent to which they felt they received this type of support from the helpline volunteer (children’s perceptions).

The other type of social support we looked into was emotional support. This is like active listening and just trying to help children feel better without directly trying to solve their problems. Unlike instrumental support, providing emotional support in the next chat did not improve volunteer satisfaction after a less satisfying chat.

We think that volunteers might provide instrumental support to feel better. When you’re feeling down, you can feel better by assisting someone because it feels good to help.

We also asked volunteers to rate their own “interpersonal adaptiveness.” It indicates how easy it is for volunteers to adjust how they communicate with each child. For instance, they might change their vocabulary to match a child’s or adjust their personality based on what they think the child needs. We found that those volunteers who feel they are good in interpersonal adaptiveness, were more satisfied when providing instrumental support. Another thing that volunteers do is adapt the support they provide to each child. For some volunteers, it is easier to customize the information or referrals to specifically fit each child’s situation. This is referred to as “service-offering adaptiveness” in our paper. We thought that this would mean some volunteers are better able to detect cues from children. And in doing so, their satisfaction would be more dependent on the cues they picked up from each child. However, we found the opposite. Our results showed that satisfaction for volunteers with higher “service-offering adaptiveness” was actually less affected by providing instrumental support.

Based on our findings, what can helplines do to help volunteers remain satisfied during their encounters with children?

    Finding: Volunteers are more satisfied when children believe they received lots of instrumental support.
    Suggested Action: Volunteers should have easy access to the helpline’s resources in order to provide the best information, advice, and referrals to children.

    Finding: It is important to be aware that a volunteer’s experience with one encounter influences the next encounter.
    Suggested Action: There should be sufficient support for volunteers after a less satisfying encounter. We recommend a feedback tool that would help volunteers to “cool off” after one of these chats or even allow a colleague or manager to help volunteers with the next chat.

    Finding: Since volunteer satisfaction increases when children are happy with the support provided, it is important that volunteers are able to detect children’s perceptions.
    Suggested Action: To help volunteers understand children’s perceptions throughout a chat, we propose that a monitoring system would be helpful. Such a system could highlight keywords in the chat that would signal whether the volunteer should provide more instrumental support and/or emotional support.

Further reading and sourcing: Siegel, J. and van Dolen, W. (2020), “Child helplines: exploring determinants and boundary conditions of volunteer encounter satisfaction”, Journal of Services Marketing, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/JSM-05-2019-0200

Call for collaboration:

The project I am currently working on investigates how helpline counselors manage multiple live chats / SMS conversations simultaneously and how doing so can affect their wellbeing. My goal is to identify ways for enhancing counselor wellbeing by determining how and when it is best to handle more than one interaction simultaneously in order to prevent either feeling overloaded or bored.

I am looking for a helpline with a focus on serving youth and children that would be willing to help me collect data from volunteers and counselors about their experiences with each interaction. I would also like to talk with helpline managers and counselors about their experiences, concerns, and ideas to find out how else we can collaborate. In addition to an academic article as output of this research, I would write a management report for the helpline which discusses the findings and recommendations for helpline managers.

If you are interested in collaborating, please contact me at j.siegel@uva.nl

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Mental Health America releases 2020 Back to School Toolkit

Returning to school and beginning a new academic year can cause feelings of anxiety and uncertainty in any circumstances, but this year it is extra stressful on students, parents, and educators alike due to COVID-19.

Each year, Mental Health America releases a back to school toolkit aimed at helping people start the new school year right with healthy habits and an awareness of stress and mental health. This year the kit contains materials aimed specifically at coping with the unusual circumstances of beginning school in the midst of a pandemic, with many schools opting for virtual or distance learning, at least for the first semester.

The 2020 Mental Health America Back to School Toolkit is available now on the Mental Health America website.

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iCarol Helps Mental Health America of Virginia Consolidate Systems and Improve Service Delivery

We are excited to welcome Mental Health America of Virginia (MHAV) to the iCarol family of customers. The oldest mental health advocacy organization in Virginia, MHAV works closely with service providers and peers to complement an individual’s recovery from trauma, mental illness, or addiction. MHAV provides a variety of programs to the community, including a Warm Line telephone service for anyone in Virginia who needs a listening ear or wants resource information.

MHAV chose iCarol to help them improve service delivery and administrative workflows within their warm line program. Using iCarol, they can now consolidate their documents, files, and referrals to a single system, allowing their warm line staff and volunteers easier and more efficient access to the information they need to serve consumers of the program. They plan to enhance their team cohesion as a result of having all their communications being carried out within iCarol rather than using a number of disparate external programs. The categorization and searching capabilities within the built-in resource/referral database will enable warm line staff and volunteers to quickly find the best resources for callers.

iCarol is also helping MHAV meet unprecedented demands placed on their agency by COVID-19, when mental health and wellbeing is a paramount concern to everyone. The global pandemic has required them to be able to staff up as needed to meet growing demand for emotional support, and with iCarol they’ll be able to more quickly onboard new volunteers.

Of their partnership with iCarol, MHAV staff and leadership shared:

“The warm line team loves using the iCarol platform to do their work. They rave about how user friendly it is to complete Contact Forms, view shift schedules, communicate with each other using the internal chat feature and the ease of engaging in text message conversations with people who prefer texting support. As the warm line manager, I love using the platform for the same reasons including the ease of running reports in real-time, viewing and providing feedback to the team, making schedule changes and being able to get support from the iCarol team quickly. The service has enabled us to better serve Virginians with the support they need during these extremely difficult times.”

— Cheryl DeHaven, MHAV Warm Line Manager


“I enjoyed working with the iCarol team throughout the implementation process – very professional, timely, and accommodating.”

—Bruce N. Cruser MSW, Executive Director

To learn more about Mental Health America of Virginia, visit www.mhav.org.

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Attracting funders in times of crisis

The Coronavirus global pandemic has introduced all sorts of new challenges to not-for-profit organizations — maintaining services while social distancing and obeying stay-at-home orders, keeping staff and clients safe, shifting to remote work, engaging clients online — to name a few. And while seamless service delivery is of the utmost importance, those services often can’t exist without donors, stakeholders and funders, and we’ve still yet to see the long-term impacts the economic downturns and depression may have on non-profit funding.

A recent blog shared to Candid Learning, an online source for information about philanthropy and fundraising, shares some information and steps toward better engaging and accessing funding sources during the pandemic, and tips on realigning services with the missions and priorities of those funders. Read more on the Candid Learning blog, authored by Elizabeth (Liz) Ngonzi.

Check out these related resources:

How to get funding for new technology

How to Get Funding
for New Technology
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Why Advocacy and
How the Heck Do You Do It?
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Building a United Crisis Line Team
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How to Calculate
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iCarol’s Virtual User Group Session is Just Two Weeks Away!

It’s important to us that our customers still have the opportunity to connect with us, receive training, and have the option to participate in a user group session, even if this year we can’t hold the event in person.

Our first initiative to provide that continuity — the user group portion of our conference will become a virtual user group session — is now just two weeks away! The session will occur on Thursday, June 11 at 2pm Eastern time.

This virtual user group session is your chance to hear about the latest improvements and enhancements to iCarol, learn what we have planned for implementation in the coming months, and discuss and provide feedback to the iCarol Product Management team on what features you’d like to see implemented in the future. All customers or those exploring iCarol for potential use at their organization are welcome to attend.

Virtual User Group Exclusive: Attendees of this session will be the first to hear about a major feature release coming in Q4 of 2020! You won’t want to miss it!

During this session we will:*

  • Review released features and enhancements from the past year
  • Share features and enhancements in progress and coming soon
  • Discuss iCarol strategy and priorities
  • Invite your industry expertise and votes on top ideas
  • Share a sneak peek at an all new, major feature release coming in Q4 of 2020!

Learn More and Register

*We reserve the right to make adjustments to our schedule and topics prior to the event date.

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Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Announces COVID-19 grants

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) has announced a program providing $15 million in total support to stimulate collaborations between academic researchers and the public and not-for-profit sectors, and industry to address pandemic-related research and technical challenges. Support for up to $50,000 for one-year projects is being made available immediately and NSERC will process these applications in an accelerated fashion.

Who is it for?

University researchers collaborating with private-sector, public-sector or not-for-profit organizations.

How much and for how long?

Up to $50,000 for up to 1 year.

The objectives of the NSERC Alliance COVID-19 grants are to:

  • Accelerate the flow and exchange of research results and research expertise in the natural sciences and engineering sectors between academic researchers and public, not for profit and industry partners by supporting these organizations as they face challenges in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • Support research and analysis activities that address partner organization questions or issues in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to applications in the short term.

Deadline:

Applications will be accepted at any time until June 1, 2020.

Learn More and Apply

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Financial assistance for individuals, non-profits and small businesses affected by COVID-19

As the COVID-19 public health crisis remains, individuals and businesses continue to see a financial impact due to social distancing and stay-at-home orders implemented in the interest of public safety. A number of resources have been made available, including reallocation or reopening of funding processes for initiatives previously depleted of first round funding. Click the links below for more information about these initiatives in both Canada and the United States.

Government resources/assistance to non-profits affected by COVID-19

Businesses of all types have been deeply affected by the COVID-19 crisis, including not-for-profit organizations. Both the Canadian and US Federal Governments have made assistance programs available to small businesses, particularly regarding maintaining of payroll in spite of lost income. The following resources may be helpful to your non-profit organization if you need to explore such programs for your agency:


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January is Stalking Awareness Month

CW: This blog post discusses stalking, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence.

January is National Stalking Awareness Month (NSAM), and though millions of men and women are stalked every year in the United States, the crime of stalking is often misunderstood, minimized and/or ignored.


What is “stalking?”

Stalking is a pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that causes fear. Many stalking victims experience being followed, approached and/or threatened — including through technology. Stalking is a terrifying and psychologically harmful crime in its own right as well as a predictor of serious violence.

Facts about stalking*

injured person with a bruise on their face
  • In 85% of cases where an intimate partner attempted to murder their partner, there was stalking in the year prior to the attack.

  • Of the millions of men and women stalked every year in the United States, over half report being stalked before the age of 25 and over 15% report it first happened before the age of 18.

  • Stalking often predicts and/or co-occurs with sexual and intimate partner violence. Stalkers may threaten sexual assault, convince someone else to commit assault and/or actually assault their victims.

  • Nearly 1 in 3 women who were stalked by an intimate partner were also sexually assaulted by that partner.

  • Stalking tactics might include: approaching a person or showing up in places when the person didn’t want them to be there; making unwanted telephone calls; leaving unwanted messages (text or voice); watching or following someone from a distance, or spying on someone with a listening device, camera, or GPS.

What is the impact on stalking victims?*

packed bag
  • 46% of stalking victims fear not knowing what will happen next.

  • 29% of stalking victims fear the stalking will never stop.

  • 1 in 8 employed stalking victims lose time from work as a result of their victimization and more than half lose 5 days of work or more.

  • 1 in 7 stalking victims move as a result of their victimization.

  • Stalking victims suffer much higher rates of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and social dysfunction than people in the general population.

How you can help

Helpline staff and volunteers can do a number of things to help people who reach you and talk about being stalked:

  • Provide validation and empathy.

  • Don’t minimize behaviors that are causing the person concern (e.g. “I wouldn’t worry.” “That doesn’t sound harmful.” “They’re only text messages.”)

  • Encourage the person to keep keep detailed documentation on stalking incidents and behavior. More information and a template can be found here.

  • Use Stalking Harassment and Risk Profile (SHARP) Risk Assessments at your organization. More information and a template can be found here.

  • Empower and help the person develop a safety plan that is flexible, comprehensive, and contextual. More information can be found in this guide for advocates.

  • If your organization does not provide direct services to assist with the issue, provide helpful resources such as a local domestic/intimate partner violence helpline, sexual assault helpline, legal resources, law enforcement, etc.

We all have a role to play in identifying stalking and supporting victims and survivors. We encourage you to learn more from the Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center at www.stalkingawareness.org.

*Source: Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center (SPARC)

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Join us for Bell Let’s Talk Day

Bell Let's Talk

Wednesday January 29th is a big day for Canadian mental health initiatives: It’s Bell Let’s Talk Day!

This annual event draws attention to the topic of mental health, particularly the stigma attached to mental illness that prevents many from seeking help. The idea is that if we all talk more openly about mental health and are open to conversations about it, it will lessen the shame attached to mental illness. Bell also champions access to care, workplace mental health, and research.

On Bell Let’s Talk Day, people are encouraged to take to social media and discuss the topics of mental health and mental illness. Certain social media activities, such as watching the official Bell Let’s Talk video, using their special profile photo frame in Facebook, or using their special Snapchat filter, will help raise funds for organizations that address Bell Let’s Talk’s initiatives. Bell donates 5¢ to mental health initiatives and programs across Canada (including many services that are part of the iCarol family!). Bell customers can also participate by texting or making calls. Find out more about how to take part.

Bell Let’s Talk has had a profound impact across Canada. Since the campaign began in 2011 there have been over 1 billion interactions around Bell Let’s Talk, with over $100 million donated to mental health initiatives. And 86% of Canadians say they are more aware of mental health issues since Bell Let’s Talk launched.

To learn more about Bell Let’s Talk, check out their website and toolkit that contains everything you need to participate. We hope you’ll follow us on Twitter and Facebook, to join us in raising funds and awareness so we can remove the stigma from the conversation about mental health!

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