The 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.
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:
NASCOD Members will be invited to the Lifeline Evaluation Webinar Series which will focus on research supporting crisis and suicide intervention best practices
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.
Recently we announced the availability of several exciting new capabilities related to Texting/SMS in your iCarol system:
- Send a text message (SMS) to your callers from a follow-up task attached to a call report. Best practices from suicide prevention professionals show that proactive follow-ups can reduce risks to suicidal callers.
- Send ad hoc text messages to your staff and volunteers, and allow them to receive automated iCarol notifications like shift reminders by text message. As many people now check email less frequently, this is an important new channel for them to use.
- See the total text message usage for your iCarol system. If you have any feature enabled that can generate Text/ SMS messages, you can now go to the Statistics -> Messaging page to see how many are being sent and received.
- If you also have iCarol Messaging (SMS), then when people respond to these outbound text messages, their responses will come into your Messaging queue. If not, they will receive an auto-responder indicating responses are not monitored.
To turn on these features and learn more about using Text Messaging/SMS at your helpline, go to the Admin Tools page and click on the new Messaging tab. Please note that Text Messaging / SMS traffic can result in additional charges from iCarol as well as for the recipient from their mobile phone service provider. If you have any questions, feel free to contact the iCarol Support Team by logging a case.
Kids Help Phone has a 25 year legacy of providing phone and online emotional support for Canadian children and teens. An authority on a variety of topics, their professional helpline counsellors are available 24/7/365 to talk to kids about any issue. They are a nonjudgmental source of trustworthy information on mental health, bullying, sexual health, peer and family issues, addictions, and more. Tens of thousands of kids reach out to their services each week via phone, online chat, and written correspondence on the Kids Help Phone website. They play a large role in the continuum of mental health care for Canadian youth.
Kids Help Phone recently launched the “Always There” app and “Resources Around Me” public database. “Always There” was developed with the help of kids submitting their input and voting on features. It allows kids to keep a private log of their feelings and experiences. App users can contribute to stress buster activities that offer helpful tips, inspirational quotes, and jokes.
“Resources Around Me” provides Canadian youth with greater access than ever to the resources available in their communities. By simply starting with their location and then the types of resources needed, teens can easily find what they’re looking for and then connect directly with those resources.
The iCarol team is proud to have been a part of this project through our support of the resource database and the API. How can your organization make use of these same tools? How about adding on the Public Resource Directory to your iCarol system so you can share resources with the public via a resource search on your own website? iCarol’s Resource API gives your software developers the data they need to work on a variety of new and exciting projects. If you’re interested in pursuing a project like this, send an email to