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5 Questions to ask during volunteer interviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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iCarol to present workshop on Online Emotional Support at AAS Conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

This collaboration presents two major benefits to participants:

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

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


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

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

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    iCarol Promotes Teen Dating Violence Month

    teen couple

    There are a lot of conversations that parents dread having with their kids, but conversations about sex are notoriously difficult. And while conversations about healthy relationships should go hand in hand with “the talk,” that’s a step that many parents miss. In fact, three out of four parents haven’t talked to their kids about domestic violence, and 81% of parents believe that teen dating violence isn’t an issue, or they admit they don’t know if it’s an issue.

    But it is a very important issue. One in three teens will experience some form of abuse from someone they date, including physical, sexual or verbal abuse. About one in five women and almost one in seven men who experience rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner first experience some sort of partner violence as a teen or adolescent. As future generations grow up and start dating, it’s important that they have the proper education and understanding as they enter into relationships – and know how to identify and avoid ones that are unhealthy or dangerous.

    February is Teen Dating Violence month, and February 4th is ‘It’s Time to Talk’ Day, a day when we encourage parents, advocates, mentors, and other adults to talk to their teens about dating violence. Helplines are trusted sources of information for kids and teens, and so we encourage you to check out these resources and share them as needed.

    It’s Time to Talk Day Conversation Guide and Talk-a-thon Guide

    Dating Violence Warning Signs

    Dating Violence 101

    Do you have more resources to add? Share them with everyone by leaving a comment below!

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    When Wintry Weather Wreaks Havoc on your Helpline

    blizzard

    Snowy and icy conditions can spell trouble for seamless shift coverage. How do you keep your hotline operating in spite of dangerous travel conditions for your volunteers and staff? Depending on the severity of the storm, you may have no special plan at all except to tell workers they are expected to be there for their shift or find a substitute to cover for them. In many snow storms, travel is possible so long as precautions are taken, such as driving at slower speeds and being extra vigilant. Call centers in urban settings may also benefit from having volunteers living within walking distance or taking public transportation.

    But sometimes travel conditions can become extremely hazardous or even impossible. What then? Here are some methods we’ve commonly seen:

    • The show must go on – Shifts go on as scheduled no matter what. Workers who realize they can’t make it in must give ample notice and find substitutes who are able to travel. If all else fails, the task falls to an essential staff of supervisors or managers to keep things running.

    • Transfer your calls – In some instances there may be a partner agency, satellite office of your program, or a back-up center in an area unaffected or less affected by the weather, and they can take the calls for a period of time.

    • Work from home – Technology has made it easier than ever to turn any setting into a call center, even your worker’s home. Calls could get forwarded to that worker’s personal phone or a phone loaned to them from the office. Using iCarol, chats or texts can be taken from virtually anywhere as well. Special tip for iCarol users who might employ this method: You must either turn off ‘Restriction’ (the feature that makes it so your workers can’t see call reports from a personal computer outside the office) or give your worker permissions to install the iCarol Certification Tool on their computer.

    • Camping out – Marshmallows optional. When the forecast calls for dangerous weather and snow accumulations that might make travel impossible, make a decision ahead of time to suspend the usual schedule, and instead have a crew arrive prior to hazardous road conditions developing. This crew will stay for a period of time until travel is safe again and shifts can resume. You’ll need sufficient kitchen and bathroom facilities, and workers should bring food. If this goes on for longer than the typical shift length, your crew can set up their own internal shifts of who works and who gets a break. By following the weather and traffic reports, the Director can decide when it’s time for normal shifts to resume.

    • Do you handle scheduling in wintry weather some other way? We’d love to hear about it! Leave us a comment!

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    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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    Child Helpline International presents 10 years of data at the United Nations

    On November 20, 2013 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, Child Helpline International presented their statistical findings after 10 years of receiving calls, emails, texts, and chats from children around the world. We were honored to have Shelley of the iCarol team on site to witness the momentous occasion.

    Some highlights from their presentation that we thought you would find interesting:

    Abuse
    • Over 4 million children and young people reported a form of abuse or violence
    • Immediate or extended family commit 58% of the physical abuse reported
    • 60% of abuse and violence were reported by girls
    Bullying
    • Over 25% of school-related problems are due to bullying
    • Most bullying takes place at school
    • Over 30,000 contacts about cyber-bullying since 2011
    Basic Needs
    • Over 60,000 contacts from children who were abandoned
    • 220,000 children made contact because they needed food, resources, or financial aid
    • 140,000 contacts from children having trouble accessing health services
    • 40,000 contacts from children expressing an inability to access education

    Want to see the full report? You can download it here.

    Congratulations to Child Helpline International for 10 years of incredible service helping children all around the world.

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    Using Feedback to Encourage, Praise, Teach, and Boost Morale

    Feedback is critical to your phone workers’ professional growth and skill enhancement. Without it, call takers might feel left in the dark and unsure of whether they are doing a fantastic job or totally missing the mark.

    Do you regularly take time to give written feedback to your call specialists? Devoting even a half hour of your day to reading call reports and giving written feedback can remind your call takers that you are taking quality assurance seriously and that someone reviews their call documentation. Something as simple as a “Nice work!” or “Good job with this one!” can encourage a phone worker after a difficult call.

    If the call report leaves you asking questions or wishing they had done more, then the feedback area of the call report can be a great place to ask some questions or give suggestions on how to handle similar situations in the future. If you choose to make the feedback viewable to your other workers, it can serve as a training tool to them, though sometimes private feedback is best. And though written feedback is likely the quickest and least time-consuming method, consider those times when a phone call or in-person processing of the call may what your phone worker really needs. Want some tips on how to incorporate call reports and/or feedback into your management plan?

    • Use the ‘Highlight’ feature – Does your call center have the ability to ‘highlight’ a call enabled? This feature allows certain calls to appear highlighted in yellow on the main calls page. Many clients use this to draw attention to calls or callers of which they want their phone workers to be aware. You could just as easily use this feature to highlight the ‘Call of the Day’ or draw attention to a call that deserves special recognition or serves as a great example of good phone work or superb documentation.
    • Review Call Reports at meetings – Do you have regular all-staff meetings? Choose a call report to review with your staff at your next gathering. It’s a great opportunity for your workers and volunteers to process a call together, praise the good work of the call taker, or talk about other ways they may have handled the challenges of that call.
    • Print Caller Feedback – Many clients choose to have the ‘Caller Feedback’ text box appear in their call reports. Once a month, extract your call report data from the Admin Tools section of iCarol and review the entries in the Caller Feedback field. Print the positive feedback your workers received from callers and post it somewhere in your call center. Reminders that callers appreciate their work and value the time spent on the phone can be a great morale booster for your volunteers.

    Got tips of your own? Leave us a comment!

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