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What would you like to learn about at the 2019 iCarol User Group Summit?

Each year, one of the largest gatherings of iCarol users takes place at the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS) Training and Education conference. As a part of this conference, iCarol holds an all-day User Group Summit the Sunday before the conference officially kicks off. At this Summit, we hold the traditional User Group meeting that covers company plans, ongoing developments, and strategies for the year ahead. However, our User Group Summit is a more than just the user group meeting. We also offer free, in-depth and hands on iCarol training so our customers can get even more value from their iCarol systems, and elevate their I&R and technical skills at the same time.

We’re in the process of planning this year’s Summit, but we’d really like to know — What do you want to learn about?

We’ve put together a brief survey so you can share your thoughts with us, which we’ll use to ensure the topics addressed in the Summit are suited to our customers’ needs. Don’t miss your chance to share your ideas, the survey will only stay open until the end of the day on Thursday, February 14!

Take the Survey

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A Year of Change

year in review

As I reflect back on 2018, there’s no question that this has been a significant year for iCarol. As many of you know, iCarol was acquired by Harris Computer Systems on March 12 of 2018. Harris is part of Constellation Software, Inc., Canada’s largest software company.

The Harris acquisition allowed our co-founders, Neil and Jackie McKechnie, to step away from iCarol knowing that it would be in good hands as part of a company which intended to retain it, invest in it and to help it grow further. While it was bittersweet to lose Neil and Jackie, we realized this move enabled them to pursue new goals in their lives, including spending more time with family and friends. We stay closely in touch with them and wish them the very best in their new endeavors.

This new chapter in iCarol’s history has brought a number of benefits, as the iCarol team has been able to rely on guidance from Harris’ accomplished compliance and legal teams, and to utilize ongoing assistance from corporate Finance and IT departments. This freed up team members to focus on other needs of the organization, which we could not do as easily before we had the resources of Harris behind us.

In addition, as part of Harris there is an ongoing opportunity to learn and grow from a team of thousands of software professionals in a variety of roles, allowing us to network with sister business units in sectors such as healthcare, emergency management, law enforcement, government, public schools, and more. There’s a lot to learn as we bring back ideas to improve iCarol, in how we serve and support our customers, and how we design our software to provide more value to its users.

We look forward to continued growth and investment in iCarol in 2019, as we focus on five primary initiatives throughout the year:

  • Increased Scalability
  • Improved Data Privacy and Security
  • More Powerful Resource Management
  • Greater Flexibility in Reporting
  • Collaborative Data Sharing

In the interests of keeping this blog brief, we’ll expand on improvements made to iCarol in 2018, and each of these initiatives in the early part of 2019, through blog articles and webinars. Stay tuned for more details on these!

While it’s been a momentous year for iCarol, change has also affected our customers, as we’ve seen trends in nonprofit funding and donations shift, and in some cases decline precipitously. A number of our customers provide some type of assistance during and after disasters, and there have been many heartbreaking examples this year. Throughout it all our customers have stood strong and assisted as many as they possibly could, which continues to inspire us here at iCarol. As a matter of fact, the Harris team has commented on the tremendous commitment displayed by the iCarol team, which comes directly from working with our customers, and witnessing their determination in the face of such difficult odds.

On the positive side, in 2018 we have seen some strides forward in government recognition of the importance of suicide prevention, which heartens us all. It gives us hope that 2019 will see improvements in the funding and support all our customers rely on to perform their mission.

In this holiday season we salute you, our customers, and the tremendous work that you do. We wish everyone a safe, secure and happy holiday season. We remain honored to serve you and look forward to another year of service and giving in 2019 and beyond.

Warm wishes to you all,

Rachel Wentink
Vice President, Operations



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“It’s a Wonderful Life” and the Importance of Connection

This time of year I like to post a blog I wrote years ago about Frank Capra Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” and how this popular and enduring holiday program centers around the topic of one man’s suicide plan. While most people view the film casually and this aspect of the story may take a backseat to the other major themes, for those of us who have experience working in the suicide prevention or crisis industry, it’s hard not to view the film from that unique perspective. And, I promise you, I’ll get to that in just a moment.

But, I recently read a highly engaging article titled The Best Way to Save People From Suicide featured in the Huffington Post last month. In summary, it discusses the idea that making connections and keeping in close contact with someone who is suicidal is a simple yet effective method of preventing suicide. Remarkably, this applies to many different types of contact, from simple texts or emails, making a call, even sending a form letter.

Reading about the importance of connections got me thinking about George in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Here’s a guy who has connected with a lot of people over his life. He’s a beloved son and brother, and well-liked member of the community. He is devoted to other people and several times through the course of the film, we see him sacrifice his own dreams and ambitions to help family members and others. In my opinion and observation watching the film, that lifetime of deferring his own needs for others leads to a degree of resentment and perhaps even depression.

Suddenly, as things in Bedford Falls turn grim, with a run on the bank and his uncle misplacing a large deposit at the worst possible time, the walls begin closing in and George, who has always been able to come to the rescue, feels desperate, helpless and hopeless. Worst of all, it would seem his connections are failing him right when he needs them most. He can’t see his own value, and the positive presence he is in so many lives.

When Clarence shows George Bedford Falls (or Pottersville, as it’s called in the dismal alternate universe where George was never born) and the lives of the people there without him, only then does George see the meaning his life has and the impact he’s had on the town and people residing there. Having been reminded of his value, he’s pulled from the darkness.

While thankfully Clarence’s supernatural abilities did the trick, just imagine how powerful it may have been for a real person George knew to recognize his pain, then pull him aside and tell him how important he is to them, and ask him how he’s doing. We all have the power to make and keep connections with the people we know, and check in on those who may be hurting. We don’t even have to have all the answers to their problems, we just have to be present with them and provide empathy in that moment.

And now, without further adieu…

13 thoughts of crisis workers when watching “It’s a Wonderful Life”

  • It bothers you that the movie perpetuates the myth that suicide rates go up at Christmastime

  • You’re envious of the detailed and factual background Clarence has on George, and think of how helpful this would be when working with your clients

  • You know of a dozen people you’ve spoken to this month who are in way worse circumstances than George, but knowing how complex and unique suicide can be for each person you’d never judge George for feeling how he does

  • You can list all the warning signs that George is giving, and yell at the other characters for not picking up on them

  • Even better, you wish someone would talk to George about his behavior and ask him directly if he was thinking of suicide

  • You cheer on Mary when she calls a family member to talk about how George was behaving, and doesn’t keep his uncharacteristic behavior a secret. Mary – 1 Stigma and Shame – 0

  • George’s story reminds you of all the people you’ve spoken to that thought their suicide would be what’s best for their family

  • You note the high lethality of George’s plan for suicide

  • And think of how more bridges need suicide barriers for this very reason

  • It angers you when Clarence tells George he “shouldn’t say such things” when George discusses suicide, effectively shutting him down and judging him rather than listening to why he feels this way.

  • You’re relieved when George finds his reasons for living

  • You’re thankful for the happy ending, but you know that it’s rarely wrapped up so easily

  • You’re reminded of why you do the work you do

Have you had any of these thoughts while watching this classic film? Got any other thoughts to add? We’d love to hear from you, leave us a comment!

And while you may not have wings, we know the countless individuals touched by your caring voices consider you all guardian angels. Thank you for your hard work and dedication to saving lives, during the holidays and all year ’round.

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7 calls you’ll take on Christmas (or any major holiday)

If you want to witness one of the most challenging yet also most rewarding aspects of helpline work, look to the major holidays. Centers that operate 24/7/365 experience the challenge of staying open all the time and being there for help seekers even on major religious and civic holidays. It can be tough to staff these days, and hard for staff and volunteers to spend a special holiday away from friends and family, but ultimately knowing that you helped someone in their time of need makes the hard work and sacrifice worthwhile.

So what kinds of calls (or chats or texts!) do such services receive on these major holidays?

Hello from a familiar voice

    At any given hotline it’s fairly common to have a population of people both in and outside their communities for whom the helpline is a part of this person’s support network. These folks rely on the helpline as a support system for a number of reasons; limited social and familial relationships, daily coping with mental illness or disabilities, loneliness, or someone simply had a very successful interaction that keeps them coming back for support. Regardless of the reason, helplines should take this caller loyalty as a compliment and endorsement. And you’ll likely hear from these same people on the holidays as well, either to check-in and talk like they normally would, or often with an added “Thank you for being there.”

Surprise!

    More than a handful of times I can recall answering the phone on a major holiday and the person on the other end was baffled by the sound of another human voice. “Oh…hello? Are you a real person?” or “Oh wow, you guys are there today!” Often they were prepared to have to leave a message or were just testing the line. It was nice to hear someone pleasantly surprised that they could speak to another person on a day where so much was going on and so many other services are closed, and it usually made me feel like I was in the right place that day.

I need a meal/toy for my child/counselor/shelter/etc.

    These calls can be a challenge because for many situations, the help seeker isn’t going to be able to get help that day. As mentioned above, many services are closed and it can be tough to give a person referrals but know that their situation may remain in limbo until the holiday has passed. Thankfully in my experience there were at least a handful of non-profits or religious institutions who were open and providing things like hot meals on many holidays, and even those who had last-minute toy giveaways for families with children who hadn’t signed up for such programs in advance. And, even when the referred service isn’t open, you’re able to at least provide empathy and hope which can make a world of difference.

Crises don’t take a day off

    For many people, holidays are more stressful than they are delightful, and actually present a recipe for crisis. Tensions that were simmering below the surface can easily rise up when a person is under stress. And while for most people family gatherings are a happy occasion, for others these get-togethers can easily result in outbursts or even violence. Of course this can happen in a group setting or to someone who is alone. After all, a holiday is just another day, presenting all the same hardships as the day before. There is nothing special about a holiday that can create a foolproof barrier against a crisis or suicidal thoughts — making it all the more critical that someone be available to help talk things through or intervene in some way.

I want to help

    Holidays that put a focus on gratitude and generosity will bring out the best in people. For many, the spirit of giving is coursing through them so much that they’re looking for a last minute opportunity to volunteer somewhere so they can give back to others in need. Unfortunately for these generous people, most organizations have long since filled their need for volunteers on the actual holiday, plus there are application processes and/or training that make it infeasible to accept these spur of the moment offers of volunteerism. Luckily these folks are usually willing to accept referrals to the many organizations in their area that need volunteers year ’round, not just on the holidays, and would hopefully follow through with their plan to help after going through the proper processes.

Holidays are a painful reminder

    For many people the holiday itself can be a cause of negative feelings, and they need someone to vent to. Perhaps they have a particularly bad memory associated with the day or time of year, and pain surfaces as a result. This may be a memory from long ago or something that happened much more recently, but anniversaries tend to make us recall these past events and relive the emotions experienced, good or bad. Some people are grieving a lost loved one, and holidays remind them of the empty seat at the table. For others, seeing people enjoying get-togethers with family and friends shines a painful spotlight on their own loneliness or broken relationships. Being the person that was there for them when they needed it most can be very rewarding.

Thank you

    Perhaps the most heartwarming interaction you can have is with the person who calls just to say “Thanks.” Sometimes they’re people who have used your service in the past. Or, it may just be a person who finds out you’re there on a major holiday and recognizes that by sacrificing some of your time, you’re making a positive impact on others. A simple “Thank you” goes such a long way.

During the holidays we know many of you out there will be spending some time apart from your families as you work to serve your communities. On behalf of all of us here at iCarol, thank you for all you do and we wish you a happy holiday season and bright New Year!

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iCarol End-of-Year Housekeeping Tasks

As the end of 2018 approaches, we want to take the opportunity to provide some housekeeping tasks for you to review. We know how busy you are every day of the year, and even if you already have processes in place for these tasks, getting them done might fall to the bottom of your to-do list sometimes. Now is a good time to review these housekeeping tasks to help you get the most out of your iCarol system, while you’re getting ready for another exciting year!

    Review Draft Contact Forms

    It’s a good idea to designate a user with appropriate permissions to review all Contact Forms in DRAFT and ensure they’re either submitted or deleted by the end of the year. This is important because any Contact Forms in draft mode aren’t included in Statistics or Data Exports reports, so you could be missing import reporting data if forms documenting completed calls are left in draft mode. And erroneous drafts can clutter up your draft list, making it harder for your staff to see the drafts that actually need to be reviewed and completed. To learn more about draft Contact Records, read this related help article.

    Draft call report forms

    Set Obsolete Contact Record Custom Fields To “Inactive” Status

    The information you need to collect on your Contact Forms may periodically change. For example, perhaps a project your helpline participates in ends, and you no longer need to collect that piece of data. It helps keep your forms tidy, and reduces time spent by your volunteers, if these unnecessary fields are hidden from the form entirely. This cleanup can be done at any time, but the end of the year is a perfect time to review the relevancy of your form’s fields. To learn more, read this related help article.

    Disable inactive call report form filter

    Disable Inactive Custom Fields in Contact Forms from Appearing in Statistics Call Content Filters

    If you’ve made changes to your Contact Forms, and set any custom fields to ‘inactive’ because they were no longer being used, now is a good time to review those inactive custom fields, and determine if the setting to ‘Use as a filter in Statistics’ should be disabled. If you no longer need to run reports on this information, it may help to have that filter removed from the list entirely. This way, your reporting staff will only see applicable filters when applying them to reports, saving them time as they browse through the list of filters. To learn more, read this related help article.

    Call Report Editor Use as filter in statistics

    Disable Vols-Staff from Accessing iCarol

    It’s likely you had users leave your organization throughout the past year for any number of reasons. Even if you have a process in place already for what to do when users leave your organization, now is a good time to review your Vols-Staff profiles to ensure you’ve disabled users from accessing iCarol, when appropriate. This not only keeps them from accessing data they are no longer authorized to have, but also ensures they won’t be called or emailed by your active volunteers for help covering a shift. To learn more, read this related help article.

    Disable volunteer access

    Review Organization Contacts

    During the year your designated Billing or Support Contacts may have left your organization, but you forgot to update your iCarol system accordingly with this information. To avoid unpaid invoices or delays in sending Support requests, it’s good to occasionally make sure the proper contacts are assigned to these roles. Read this help article to learn more about your organization’s designated contacts, and how and why to keep them up to date.

    Designate contacts

    Backup Resources

    It’s best practice to periodically create a backup file of your Resources, in case you need to access them offline for any reason. These files can then be especially helpful if your organization experiences problems with internet connection, but you are still able to handle interactions (i.e. take phone calls, or handle walk-in requests) and provide referrals. You can create this backup file using our standard Resources Data Export tool, or even better, use the Specialized Exports of Resources to Word/Excel feature if your organization is subscribed to it, which provides even more flexibility in how these exports are presented and organized. Use the links above to read the related help articles to learn more about each tool to create a backup of your Resources.

    Extract data

    Backup Contact Records

    It’s also a good idea to create an offline, back-up copy of your Contact Records for your users to access in case your organization ever experiences problems with internet connection. Depending on the complexity of your forms, you may wish to simply save a printable version of your Contact Forms for your users to print out, or for more complex Contact Forms you may wish to transpose your Contact Forms into an editable document so your users can fill out the form on the computer. Some of our users even create paper copies for use in the event of a full power outage. Then, once internet connection is re-established, you should have a process in place to enter the data into iCarol so the interactions are included in statistical reporting.

It’s likely your organization already has processes in place to complete most of these tasks throughout the year. But if you don’t, now might be a good time to consider if you want to develop any processes for the new year to help you stay on track with completing these tasks on a regular basis so you’re optimizing your iCarol system.

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iCarol Webinar: Why Advocacy and How the Heck Do You Do It?

Advocating for the needs of your organization and the clients you serve is a huge component of the overall survival and success of your agency. Some may find the prospect of lobbying elected officials intimidating and confusing, but it’s actually not as complex or scary as it may seem!

We invite you to attend a webinar on this topic on Tuesday, December 11th at 2pm EST. Sara Sedlacek from The Crisis Center of Johnson County will present information that takes the mystery and intimidation out of the advocacy process, helping you get the ear and support of the local, state, and federal officials elected to represent you and the people who benefit from your services.

With legislative sessions beginning in January, now is the time to learn more about how to advocate for your organization.

Register Now

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iCarol Career Opportunity

We are currently seeking a qualified candidate to fill an open position of Solutions Expert on our Sales Team. This member of the team will be responsible for hunting for and qualifying new business opportunities.

Our ideal candidate will be a self-starter, charismatic, and be highly motivated with some prior success in hunting for, identifying, qualifying and closing high quality business opportunities. Candidates will identify the needs of the customer, demonstrate the benefits of the software and present the iCarol solution to local government agencies and not-for-profit organizations, growing the customer base as well as enhancing relationships with existing customers. The ideal candidate is an inquisitive, self-starter who is interested in finding the best solution to fit the needs of our customers. They may also have previous direct sales experience, with experience working with the iCarol solution being a plus, preferably as an iCarol Admin.

To read the full details of our job listing and apply, click here.

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iCarol strengthens security through enhanced user password requirements

At iCarol, we’re always looking to the most cutting edge and progressive ways of strengthening system security, protecting data, and preventing unauthorized system access. This always has been and will continue to be a top priority for us.

In addition to the security measures we take to protect data during its transmission and storage, ensuring good password strength is one simple way that each iCarol user can protect their system and the personal information stored within. That’s why, to help our users do this, we are proactively implementing advanced security protocols for passwords used to access the iCarol system. Once these new protocols are enacted, our users will be prompted to update their passwords to ensure they meet our new strength requirements.

We appreciate our users’ compliance with these new protocols. We want you to rest easy knowing we are doing our part to keep your iCarol system secure, while also helping ensure that each individual’s use of iCarol also upholds this security through tight password guidelines.

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The right service at the right time – using time restrictions in your Public Web Forms

There’s a lot to like about iCarol’s Flexible Public Web Forms (also known as Online Forms). You can do so much with this versatile tool that is, at its core, a public facing version of the same Contact Forms that iCarol users access within their systems to log interactions with the people they serve.

In case you’re asking “What’s an iCarol Public Web Form?” These forms are Contact Forms hosted in your iCarol system that can be enabled for the public to use. You’ll link to them when you wish to offer services on your website such as:

  • Intake forms
  • Volunteer applications
  • Satisfaction surveys
  • Self-assessments or screenings
  • Contact requests

Submitted forms are delivered to your iCarol system where you can then follow up yourself, securely send them to another agency if necessary, and of course since they are Contact Records you can export the data collected or run reports on the data within iCarol. Want to know more? Skip to the bottom of this blog post for even more information about Public Web Forms.

Enabling Time Restrictions.

If you have a service that is only available during certain days of the week, or certain hours of the day, then you may not want your Public Web Form open and available to be filled out on your website outside of those service hours. For example, a Mobile Crisis Intake Form — For better communication and clarity, and to reduce confusion or frustration, you would likely want to keep this form from appearing as an option on your website if the service was currently closed and the web visitor won’t receive a timely response.

Public Web Form time restriction is an option that allows you to make a form available only during the times you choose. The form is turned on or off based on whether or not you have an Online Form shift that is actively staffed at that time.

Add shift for Public Web Form

If there is no shift at that time, or if the shift is open and unstaffed, the form won’t be active and available on the website. If a service is going to become unavailable soon, a warning message and countdown timer can appear for any visitors who may be in the middle of filling a form. There is also the option for custom messaging to appear when the service is unavailable, which could include information such as alternative options for the visitor to pursue in absence of the target service (e.g. a number to call) or more information on the service’s normal hours of operation, and the next time web visitors can expect to see the form on and available.

By only having these Public Web Forms open when the target service is available, and guiding web visitors to other alternative services instead, people in need are directed to the right service at the time.

More Information

Why is it important to offer intakes and other forms on your website? Well for one, the people in your community are craving more communication options between themselves and the services they need to access. Whether out of convenience, personal preference, or greater ease of access for those with disabilities, diversifying available communication channels reduces barriers and opens doors for more people to receive the services they are entitled to, and get the help they need.

Using the forms doesn’t just help the people who use your services, but it helps you and your staff as well. You’ll be able to increase staff productivity since these forms can now be filled out directly by the user online, where they may previously have required manual staff time and assistance to the client. You’ll also be able to capitalize on potential volunteer interest — convert volunteer prospects into applicants easily, no more waiting to receive their application through email or snail mail. You’ll also shorten the recruitment and training life cycle, getting volunteers online faster. And because you can now direct so many clients to fill out their satisfaction surveys online, you can increase your outcome data, meet your goals, and get the funding you need.

Public Web Forms can be tailored to meet your needs in a variety of ways, including:

  • Customize the look and feel of the form to fit with your website and branding, using Cascading Style Sheets to give your form a highly stylized look. You may include your logo, choose your fonts, colors, and more for a cohesive fit within your website.
  • Edit the fillable fields and text on the form with our Contact Form Editing tools.
  • Pre-screen clients with questions before the user can proceed to the rest of the form.
  • Ensure data integrity with an integrated Captcha, protecting you from false or spam/bot submissions.
  • Enforce form timeouts and warn users of an impending timeout to make sure a form isn’t kept open for too long before submission, protecting the integrity of the data as well as your user’s privacy.
  • Notify key staff members by email when a form is submitted.
  • Analyze, track, export, and report on the information collected in the forms. Once the Public Web Form is submitted by the user, it becomes the equivalent to a finished Contact Record in your iCarol system.

To get started using these forms in your iCarol system, contact our Support Team. If you’re not yet an iCarol user, we’d be happy to speak to you about this and other solutions we offer. Please contact us.

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Stigma is Scary – People Living With Mental Illness Are Not

One of the things I like most about Halloween is that it offers such a wide range of ways to participate and have fun. Horror movies not your thing? You can stick to fun activities like carving a jack-o-lantern and handing out candy to trick or treaters. And then there are the endless costume possibilities. You can be anything from a superhero to your favorite movie character to some very obscure cultural reference or the more traditional choice of ghost or vampire.

So with that range of costume possibilities and ways to have fun in mind, it’s always deeply upsetting to see Halloween become an event where mental illness is misrepresented and stigmatized. Some haunted house attractions are centered around “asylum” themes, or have a “haunted psych ward” component. Actors wearing straight jackets or wielding weapons chase visitors and shout lines about hearing voices. The message is very clear: Mental illness, and people who experience mental illness, are scary, violent, and to be feared.

In recent years, several costumes have been pulled from the shelves following pressure from mental health advocates. Unfortunately every year there are still a few new inappropriate and offensive costumes that pop up and make their way to stores and online retailers, and regretably they are eventually seen out in public at bars and parties. And each time one is sold and then worn, it perpetuates the stigma and misconceptions around mental illness.

These interjections of mental illness into Halloween are neither fun nor harmless, but keep in place harmful stereotypes. These attractions and costumes continue pushing the idea that a person living with mental illness is violent and should be avoided. Discrimination is still a problem for people living with mental illness, and every day those who experience symptoms choose not to seek help for fear of mistreatment. These depictions also hurt those who have experienced mental illness, especially those who have been hospitalized. Their deepest fears about what society thinks of them are realized when they see illness become a subject of fear-based entertainment.

It would never be acceptable to have haunted houses set in a hospice or cancer wing of a hospital, nor would we find cancer patient costumes to be appropriate. It’s important that we all speak up when we see mental illness being stigmatized, and stand up for those who have experience with illness and are negatively impacted by the perpetuation of stigma.

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