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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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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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Career Opportunity at iCarol: Solutions Expert

Do you have sales experiences, experience working in or with a not-for-profit, or Admin Experience with iCarol Software? If you said yes to two or more of these, you could be the person we need!

iCarol is currently seeking candidates to fill the position of Solutions Expert, which is a sales representative role. Below is our full job listing. Interested parties can apply using the link at the bottom of this listing!

Solutions Expert/Sales Representative

The Solutions Expert is a sales representative that is part of the Business Development Team and reports to the Director of Business Development. As a Solutions Expert, you will join the Sales Team with a primary focus on new prospects to increase new sales and help with the overall growth of the company, and additional sales to current clients to ensure stability for the future of the company.

As a Solutions Expert you will work remotely within Canada or the United States. Depending on location, an office may be available at one of our many offices, if the successful candidate prefers to work within an office setting.

What we are looking for:

  • Experience as a sales representative
  • Some technical aptitude
  • High character, be trustworthy, authentic, and do what you say you will do
  • A desire to learn with the ability to be trained, take responsibility for your actions, and are able to be coached to improve
  • Ability to work well autonomously, and be authentic in their abilities and demeanor
  • Self-starter and highly motivated for success

What would make you stand out:

  • Experience in information technology or software sales
  • Experience working in a not-for-profit setting or demonstrated understanding of not-for-profit structure and needs
  • Experience working with the iCarol solution, preferably as an iCarol Administrator

What we can offer:

  • 3 weeks’ vacation and 5 personal days
  • Comprehensive Medical, Dental and Vision coverage from your first day of employment
  • Employee stock ownership and 401K matching programs
  • Lifestyle rewards
  • Flexible work options

About us:
CharityLogic, a division of Harris Computer, is the makers of iCarol software. iCarol is the first and only commercially available, subscription based, helpline software management system that automates all the processes associated with managing contacts and providing iCarol Messaging (live chat and texting/SMS). While iCarol was originally built specifically for non-profit helplines, our solution serves not-for-profit agencies and government organizations of many different scopes and types who serve people in need not just over the phone, but in-person, on the web, and through live chat or texting conversations.

Apply Now

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Big Feature Announcement: ReferralQ, Capacity, and Provider Portals

We’re very excited to announce that iCarol is adding some brand new, big  features to our software on August 19!

ReferralQ

ReferralQ and Capacity Tracking enables you to document and track your partner Community-Based Organization’s (CBO) capacity to accept referrals, and update a help-seeker’s status as they work with your partner so you can obtain valuable outcome information. You’ll be able to:

    Assign a help seeker to one or more wait lists/referral queues for services to meet their needs
    Update a person’s wait list or queue status
    Track how long someone has been waiting for services
    Prioritize which help-seekers need attention first, determined by your own internal business practices
    And much more!

Learn More about ReferralQ

Provider Portal

If you subscribe to ReferralQ, you’ll have the option to add on a Provider Portal. TThe Provider Portal complements ReferralQ by inviting your CBO partners secure, direct access to view and update authorized ReferralQ information. With the Provider Portal your CBO partners can input their program’s capacity to take referrals, obtain Contact Record or Intake information about the help-seekers referred to them, and update the status of a referred help-seeker as they work with the CBO. They can:

    Obtain and review the referrals you made to them from wait lists
    Input live updates on their program’s capacity
    Update the statuses of referred help seekers

Learn More about Provider Portals

The wire frame below illustrates an example workflow for organizations that may wish to use ReferralQ and the Provider Portal.

wait list capacity and provider portal wire frame

These features are coming to iCarol in Q4 of 2020, but now is a great time to ask your questions and talk to us about using these features at your organization!

Schedule A Meeting Email Us

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New Enhancements: Calculated Duration, AMI %, and History of Contact Record Changes

The latest release to the iCarol web application includes a number of useful enhancements to Contact Forms!

Calculated Duration

One of the text-entry field types available on iCarol Contact Forms, used to document information about client interactions, is the Date field.

As part of the Contact Form editing tools, iCarol Admins and others with Contact Form Version editing permissions can now opt to have a calculated duration appear on the Contact Record, measured in their choice of Days, Weeks, Months, or Years, alongside the date that was entered. calendar

While the most common use of the Date field is to record a person’s date of birth, there are a number of uses for this field, for example one could use it to note the date of a particular event related to the interaction or person’s need. Therefore, the calculated duration could refer to anything that may be of use to an organization—A person’s age in years, months spent without stable housing, weeks since a job loss, or days since someone was victimized in a crime, etc.

Calculated Duration allows Contact Specialists to quickly note the length of time passing since the entered date, which could influence the way they respond to the situation and provide helpful information that can be useful when providing support, referrals, safety planning, and more.

Area Median Income

iCarol Admins and others with Contact Form Version editing permissions can now edit their Contact Forms to include a table noting household sizes, and the corresponding local Area Median Income (AMI) amount for each household size. Once the local AMI table information is entered, related text entry fields can be added to the Contact Form. When documenting a client interaction, the specialist can enter the individual’s household size and annual income, which will result in a AMI% being calculated and shown on the form. This information is useful when determining an individual or family’s eligibility to participate in certain programs or receive assistance.

Contact Form History of Changes

Each time a change is made to a Contact Record, iCarol will automatically record who made the change, when this change was made, and information about what the change entailed. The History of Changes will be visible on the finished Contact Record, providing an audit trail for those who want to closely track these changes.

iCarol Customers can obtain setup and other instructions and information on these enhancements within the iCarol Help Center.

If you are not yet using iCarol but would like to learn more about these and other enhancements, please contact us.

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July iCarol Support Training Advanced Reporting: Statistics – Analysis Area

In May, our Support Team began offering monthly training webinars. These training sessions will be consistently held on the third Wednesday of each month at 2pm EDT.

Our topic for July 15, 2020 at 2pm EDT is Advanced Reporting: Statistics – Analysis Area.

The goal of this training is to help iCarol users:

  • Understand what data is included in each Chart Type in Analysis area
  • Learn how to use the Filters and Tools available in the Analysis area, including:
    • Call (Contact) Content Filters
    • Standard Filters
    • Total Distinct Calls
    • Click here to see Contact Records that match these filters
    • Saved Chart Type
    • Drilling into charts
    • Exporting chart data to csv files
  • Consider different use cases for the various Chart Types, Filters, and Tools available

The Monthly Support Trainings are available exclusively to iCarol customers. To sign up, please sign into your iCarol system and navigate to the iCarol Help Center, where the registration link is provided in the Announcements area.

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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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iCarol Support Team offering monthly live training sessions

With the cancellation of iCarol’s Annual Customer Conference, we will unfortunately miss the opportunity to provide our typical day full of in-person training on iCarol’s tools and features to help our customers carry our their work. However, to support our customers in the absence of this in-person event, the iCarol Support Team will begin offering monthly training webinars. We will use customer feedback and other data available to us to determine what topics to cover — ensuring that these trainings are providing the information you need and want most. These training sessions will be consistently held on the third Wednesday of each month at 2pm EDT.

The first monthly session will occur on May 20 at 2pm EDT, and is titled “Introduction to Reporting.” This training session will establish a foundation of understanding of the reports available in the Statistics section of iCarol, and provide fundamental knowledge about the data exports available in iCarol. This training can be considered a pre-requisite for future Support Trainings that will cover individual Statistics and Reporting topics in greater detail.

During this training participants will:

  • Receive a high level overview of Statistics and Data Exports in iCarol
  • Learn about the different reports and tools available in each area of Statistics
  • Review the data available in the Data Export tool
  • Begin to understand the relationships between the files included in the export

The Monthly Support Trainings are available exclusively to iCarol customers. To sign up, please sign into your iCarol system and navigate to the iCarol Help Center, where the registration link is provided in the Announcements area.

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iCarol to hold Virtual User Group session in June

Unfortunately as is the case with so many other events planned for this spring, iCarol’s annual customer conference, originally scheduled to take place in Grand Rapids, Michigan this June, has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We look forward to this event each year and were very disappointed to have to cancel, as we always enjoy seeing our customers and spending an entire day with them immersed in iCarol training and a user group session.

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.

We’re excited to announce the first initiative to provide that continuity — the user group portion of our conference will become a virtual user group session, scheduled for Thursday, June 11 at 2pm Eastern.

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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Practicing Self-care in Times of High Stress Part 2

This is the second in a series of blogs about practicing self-care in times of high stress, such as what we’re experiencing now with COVID-19. You can read Part 1 here.

Many people—especially those in helping professions—find it hard to practice self-care even if they understand its importance. There are a number of reasons for this. It is difficult to pause and make time for self-care practices when consumed by tasks at home, work, with family, etc. Helpers might feel guilty about taking time for self-care for fear that they are somehow letting down their families, coworkers or clients by pausing, even momentarily, to care for themselves. With these obstacles in play, it’s important to take some actions to make self-care a bit easier to achieve.

Tips to Help Make Self-care Possible

Start short, and work your way up

Sometimes we associate self-care with activities taking a long bubble bath or treating yourself to a professional massage. While either of those can be great for self-care, these two examples involve a level of time and cost commitment that is unrealistic for many people. Instead, we should think of self-care as something that someone only needs to take a few minutes to achieve at first. While it’s ideal to take more than just a few minutes at a time for self-care, associating self-care only with more indulgent, time-consuming activities can easily set a person to give up on the idea without even trying, because it seems too unrealistic to achieve.

Develop strategies for work and home

You’re going to need self-care options for several different environments and circumstances, so it’s a good idea to keep a few ideas in your toolbox that will work for the setting. Taking a half hour to break and read a book or watch a television program might work at home, but in the office self-care may look more like finding a quiet space for a few minutes of deep breathing and recharging. Try to keep an open mind and find multiple activities that work for you so that you can practice self-care as you find time in a variety of environments.

Pursue activities that are therapeutic for you

When deciding how to care for yourself, think about what you enjoy and what kinds of activities give you a deepest sense of peace, relaxation, or accomplishment of self-care. It can be easy to get caught up in what self-care “should” look like through society’s perspective, but effective self-care is very individualized.

Make it a team effort

It’s a phrase we’ve heard a lot lately— “We are all in this together.” But, the saying is particularly true especially for those who are working directly on COVID-19 response. Caring for others is one of those things you’re good at, and you can use that power to take care of your colleagues, and let them take care of you as well. The power and protection of your team is more meaningful now than ever, so rely on one another to help make self-care a priority. For example, help remind one another to take breaks as needed at work, and be there to process difficult calls with one another. If everyone buys in to self-care as an important part of the workplace, you can all help one another be accountable for everyone practicing good self-care.

In the third and final part of this blog series, we’ll share some ideas for self-care activities and why each might be effective for reducing stress.

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