The goal of iCarol’s blog is to provide interesting, helpful, and relevant information to our readers, who are typically volunteers or staff members of helplines and not-for-profit organizations located around the world, as well as people in executive and leadership roles, and other stakeholders. This group includes people who use iCarol, and also those who don’t.
Some of our best and most popular blog posts have come from helpline professionals who have a unique perspective to offer our readers. We’re always looking for new bloggers to join us. Here are some suggestions for topics to write about:
- How your helpline handles a specific problem/topic that may be common in the helpline industry
- Your thoughts or stance on a particular issue impacting helplines, or impacting larger industries of which helplines are a part (i.e. suicide prevention, mental health, addiction, LGBTQIA, sexual and/or domestic violence, problem gambling, etc.)
- Policies, procedures, thought processes, or philosophies on various topics that come up
- Blogs about funding — tips on how to get it, where to search for it, how to write a good grant or proposal, or how to convince your board or CEO to fund something that your helpline needs
- Detail on partnerships you’ve formed that have ultimately helped your service thrive or improve service delivery. This could be partnerships with local law enforcement, emergency departments, counseling offices, organizations you commonly refer to, and more…
- How-tos or tips for working with certain populations
- Share information about how you use iCarol that may be helpful to other users
- Going beyond service delivery — How do you market your program? How do you advertise and make people aware of your service? What outside resources do you turn to for help?
- What events or conferences do you attend and why should other helpline professionals attend them?
And those are just a few ideas for the types of blogs we’re looking for. We welcome your own ideas and proposals for topics beyond what is listed above.
Once you submit it to us, we’ll review your submission. If chosen for publishing, we’ll set up a brief bio and byline for you, and when we publish your blog we’ll also link back to your organization’s website. In exchange we’ll ask that you also link to this blog using the outlets available to you, such as your own organization’s blog, newsletter, social media accounts, etc.
Original and exclusive content is great, however any material you may have previously written that was published elsewhere is welcome, so long as you or someone from your agency authored it and you have ownership over it and are authorized to cross-post it with us.
Interested? Want to submit an idea, a finished blog, or simply learn more? Please for more information! You can also check out past guest blogs here.
As we move further into the new year, we are committed to continuing our focus on expanding and updating our Help Library. With that in mind, we’d like to call out to you for help and ask for your feedback and direct input. We’re asking for this feedback in a variety of ways and we’d love it if you participated in one, or all of them!
First, we’re calling out for your custom iCarol Training Materials that have been created at your organization! We’re looking for any type of training manuals that have been created for iCarol, for example to teach your users how to document interactions in iCarol, or to teach your resource editors how to maintain resources in your database. The information you send us will be kept confidential, and will only be used for planning purposes. If you’d like to share any iCarol training materials with us, and provide any feedback about existing training materials, please have a designated Support Contact submit a case with your manual(s) included as an attachment.
Second, we made this survey about your custom iCarol training materials and the existing training available in iCarol. This survey is meant to be filled out by any iCarol user and should only take about 5 minutes to complete. We’d love if you could take a few minutes to fill out the survey and tell us what you think!
Third, we have launched a “Help Panel Pilot” in the iCarol Ideas Portal as a possible new way of making training materials available to you.
Notice the ‘PAGE HELP’ button that appears along the right side of the iCarol Ideas Portal page.
When you click the button, a pop-out appears explaining ‘What is the iCarol Ideas Portal?’ which includes links to additional training materials about the feature.
Within this Help Panel there is another survey for you to give us your feedback specifically about the pilot project and let us know what you think! This pilot and survey are also meant to be used by any iCarol user so please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts! Please note this pilot is currently only available to iCarol systems on NA0, our default iCarol servers; you can identify if your system is on NA0 because the URLS for all pages in iCarol will begin with “webapp”.
All of this information will be used to help us prioritize what training tasks should be prioritized this year, based on what you think will make the biggest impact. Your thoughts and opinions about this matter since you are the ones who use the materials the most, so thank you in advance for anything you can add to help us with this goal of continuing to make our iCarol training materials even better!
The end of a year is typically a time for introspection as we look back on what we’ve accomplished and begin to plan for the future. This past year has certainly been challenging for a variety of reasons, but you, our clients, have been a consistent source of inspiration throughout it all. You have repeatedly stepped in to assist the most vulnerable in their time of greatest need. Whether it was responding to those at risk during and after hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, helping survivors in the aftermath of a violent attack and addressing the surge in awareness and discussion around those topics, assisting those struggling in their day-to-day environment, or handling countless other problems and requests, you have stepped up to make a positive difference in the world.
They say there’s strength in numbers, and you demonstrated it this year with creative partnerships to aid each other in your respective missions. In the interest of brevity, I’ll cite just two examples: first, a California 211 who on very short notice agreed to back up a Florida crisis center as Irma grew close, utilizing iCarol’s ability to share contact forms and resource data. The plan ensured help seekers would still have someone to assist them even as the Florida center lost its power and telephone service. The California 211 logged over 1,100 call reports during that crisis.
In another powerful example of strength in numbers, a group of crisis centers across Canada banded together to form the Canada Suicide Prevention Service (CSPS), agreeing on a common process and technology standard in order to provide a seamless network of assistance to those in crisis. The vision of a unified national service was first championed by Karen Letofsky, and began providing service in late November of this year. CSPS uses iCarol for logging contacts, chat and texting. Their very first interaction, a chat, resulted in an active rescue of a teenager. Countless other stories could be told of the valuable services you’ve all performed throughout this year, and of the powerful network you’ve built to assist each other in times of need.
At iCarol we have always strived to provide the best possible software and service we could to empower you further. After listening closely to your feedback last year, in 2017 we focused most strongly on overall service stability, product quality and in the addition of critical functionality to iCarol. We also wanted to ensure we built in additional feedback loops from you to help us continue to improve. So, you might ask, how have we done?
I’m pleased to say that for 2017 thus far, we’ve achieved our best “up time” in the past 10 years, exceeding 99.972% system availability, per our third-party monitoring service. To put 99.972% in context, it averages out to only 24.2 seconds of down time per day, or a total of 2 hours, 27 minutes and 15.9 seconds for the entire year. We’re feeling especially good about the percentage given that this year our customers logged over 10 million contact forms in iCarol, doubling the number of forms entered just 3 years ago. Your need for access to iCarol stretches ‘round the clock, and our relatively small company has delivered this year with up times comparable to industry giants like Salesforce and Amazon, ensuring you have access to your systems as you provide vital services.
We are constantly looking for ways to improve product quality. iCarol contains almost 300,000 lines of code, which implies a significant amount of work to continually test its feature functionality. In late 2016 and throughout 2017, we’ve been investing in automated testing as a way to ensure more ongoing, consistent testing. To date we’ve created 220 automated test cases, which will be kicked off nightly as the codebase is updated with new bug fixes or features. Our plan is to grow the number of automated cases to cover more and more of iCarol, thereby relying a little less on manual testing, which can be subject to human error. The more product defects we can capture before a release, the better iCarol will perform for you. This will also help us to speed up our release cycle in 2018, releasing an update on average every two weeks throughout the year, delivering feature functionality to you more quickly. As always, check the iCarol Dashboard for news on upcoming releases and any features it may contain.
The iCarol Ideas Portal was launched this February as a more formal feedback loop for you to suggest improvements, and to vote on Ideas of fellow customers. It also enables the ability for Q&A, allowing our Product Management team to gather more detailed information about selected Ideas. We’re thrilled that you’ve jumped in and begun logging your Ideas, enabling us to see trends in your voting. We’ve implemented multiple Ideas this year, and plan to add more in 2018.
In 2017, 2,769 code changes were made to iCarol, which translates into over 790 features and bug fixes added throughout the year, as we strove to improve iCarol per your feedback. Some of the most notable enhancements this year included a new release of Messaging, which incorporated the text or chat conversation into the call report form, the massive Field Visibility enhancement for resource database managers, and an updated Public Resource Directory 2.0, with its configurable Guided Search, among other features.
Smaller enhancements can also provide a lot of value for our clients, as you reminded us through your suggestions on the Ideas Portal. These included enabling a custom date range for the Summary Report, receiving an email notification when a resource is flagged for review, requesting email outcomes from an Automated Verification campaign, receiving notifications for bounced email from an Automate Verification campaign, and initiating an Automated Verification request when editing a resource record.
Finally, we’ve also begun formalizing focus groups on particular areas of functionality we’d like to improve. If you are a “Power User” of a particular area of iCarol, meaning you use it heavily, and have strong opinions on how it could be improved, we’d love to hear from you so that we can add you into a focus group. Each group will be small, but will hone in on specialized functionality so that we can obtain very detailed feedback on what works, what doesn’t, and the special requirements and limitations you run into in your environment. As I hope I’ve conveyed throughout this note, your voice and expertise is a valued part of our business, especially as part of our product management process.
All in all, it’s been quite a year. We hope you’ve weathered the storm well in both your personal and professional life, and we wish everyone a safe, secure and happy new year. Everyone at iCarol continuously marvels at the fine work you do and your life-changing and life-saving contributions to our world, and we’re excited to see your continued positive influence in the new year. We remain honored to serve you, our clients, and look forward to another year of service and giving in 2018 and beyond.
Beginning in 2011, when the United States Senate first recognized Information and Referral Services Day, November 16th was designated to raise public awareness and recognize the critical importance of the I&R field.
Every day thousands of people find the help they need quickly, conveniently and free of charge because of Information and Referral (I&R) services. I&R services come in all shapes and sizes, from crisis lines that provide their local community with a core set of human service referrals, to larger scale 2-1-1 centers providing comprehensive Information and Referral services to entire states or provinces covering many different topics and types of services.
Information and Referral is the art, science and practice of bringing people and services together and is an integral component of the health and human services sector. People in search of critical services such as shelter, financial assistance, food, jobs, or mental health and substance abuse support often do not know where to begin to get help, or they get overwhelmed trying to find what they need. I&R services recognize that when people in need are more easily connected to the services that will help them, thanks to knowledgeable I&R professionals, it reduces frustration and ensures that people reach the proper services quickly and efficiently.
The people who work these lines are consummate professionals who are often times like living, breathing encyclopedias; providing answers to questions ranging from, “Where can I get a free meal for my family” to “There’s a horse running loose in my neighborhood, who do I call?” We at iCarol are really honored to have so many Information and Referral services all across the world use our software to help provide these services to people who reach them via phone, chat, text, or through intake and screening forms or resource searches on their websites.
If you’d like to learn more about what iCarol does to support efficient referral management, check out this page of our website that goes over some of those features. You’re also welcome to watch a webinar that focuses solely on our Information and Referral solutions.
Happy I & R Day, everyone, and kudos on the awesome work you do connecting people with the services they need, and addressing the social determinants of health in your communities!
Learn more about Information and Referral:
Microsoft products play a large role in what we do and the innovative service offerings we’re able to pass along to our clients. So, we were delighted to have the recent opportunity for Jackie and Neil to sit down with Andy Pitman, Director of Health and Human Services Solutions at Microsoft, to talk a bit about iCarol and the incredible work of our clients as life-saving social safety nets of their communities. You can check out that interview here. We’ve very excited to announce some additional initiatives between ourselves and Microsoft soon – stay tuned to the blog and your iCarol Dashboard for more information.
Read the Interview
Congratulations to our friends at Ontario 211 (ON211) — recent winners of the 2017 Citizen and Community Global Impact Award for their website, along with partners BDO IT Solutions. This award is granted to an organization that exhibits excellence in creating solutions that improve communities.
This award is a result of a partnership between ON211 and BDO IT Solutions to create a cost-effective, web-enabled solution aimed at transforming ON211’s online presence and among other goals, making their website easier for community members to navigate and find needed resources. BDO worked closely with Ontario 211 Services to develop the service on Microsoft’s technologies and implement in the Microsoft cloud, Azure. ON211 Resource records are curated in the iCarol database and that data is made accessible to the website via the iCarol Resource API.
Read ON211’s full press release about the project and award here.
Find out more about iCarol’s Resource API here and here, and please contact us if you’d like to learn even more about using the Resource API at your organization.
The Epilepsy Foundation is seeking applications from those who have a documented expertise in answering information and referral calls; a phone system that can handle an independent call queue specific to Epilepsy Foundation calls and a separate queue for Spanish calls; capacity to expand staff coverage if warranted; and documentation of current AIRS Accreditation. Please review the RFP for full requirements and direct questions and proposals to:
Director of Information & Referral
Key dates to consider:
Proposal Deadline: July 26, 2017
Vendor Selection Date: August 16, 2017
Project Start Date: September 11, 2017
Vendor Information Call: July 13, 2017
The Epilepsy Foundation, a national family-led, community based, non-profit with nearly 50 local organizations throughout the United States, has led the fight against seizures since 1968. The Foundation is an unwavering ally for individuals and families impacted by epilepsy and seizures. The Foundation works to prevent, control, and cure epilepsy through community services; public education; federal and local advocacy; and supporting research into new treatments and therapies. The Foundation works to ensure that people with seizures have the opportunity to live their lives to their fullest potential. The Epilepsy Foundation’s National Office is in Metropolitan Washington, D.C.
The Epilepsy Foundation operates a national specialized information and referral (I&R), helpline that serves people who are concerned about epilepsy. The Alliance of Information & Referral Systems, a driving force behind the delivery of quality Information & Referral services, currently accredits the Epilepsy & Seizures 24/7 Helpline. The helpline responds to approximately 12,000 inquiries per year. Approximately 8,000 are telephone calls, 250 of these calls are via the Spanish line.
The Epilepsy Foundation National Office operates Monday through Friday from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM Eastern Time and on adjusted hours during the summer months. In 2013, the Epilepsy & Seizures Helpline began 24-hour coverage through an after-hours partnership where the partner handles telephone inquiries during the evening, weekend, holidays, and adjusted hours. In addition, the partner handles the Epilepsy Foundation Spanish line 24/7/365.
Learn more about the foundation on their website, and about their helpline here.
Our friends at United Way of North Carolina/NC 2-1-1 are celebrating their first anniversary with iCarol in the best way possible — snacks and cake shared amongst their hardworking staff! We think our logo looks pretty delicious as a cake decoration.
It’s been quite an eventful year for their team, including navigating the challenges that came with Hurricane Matthew and the subsequent flooding in their region. Through it all the dedicated people at NC 2-1-1 were there for the community, connecting them with resources and logging over 12,000 interactions into iCarol during that disaster. Wow!
We just love that they took the time to recognize the milestone and we couldn’t be happier to count them among our users. “Happy Anniversary” to the entire team in North Carolina! We appreciate the great work you do and are thrilled and honored to have you as a part of the iCarol family!
According to Larry C. Johnson’s Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising, few non-profit organizations see their donors as investors. Often times a non-profit will focus on events where donors get some kind of premium for their one-time donation. Johnson ask us to re-imagine this — to move from a transactional construct to one that is more relational. When we ask people to give, we are inviting them to partner with us, to share in our vision and support our mission and programmatic goals. Before any event we should be asking: Does the event fit in with our mission? Is it worth the time, volunteer and staff effort, and upfront costs? How will we continue to engage our donors afterward? Regardless of the event, be it outreach or fundraising focused, it’s helpful to have a donor management system in place beforehand, to capture data and continue engagement post-event.
My center, the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline, has held multiple fundraising and outreach events — a concert with an out of town performer who’d played previous benefits for our local NAMI chapter; a semicolon tattoo event — almost 100 people got permanent ink of henna tattoos that evening; hosting the film “The Mask You Live In”, a documentary about the risks of toxic masculinity, at our local art house theater; and a golf tournament this summer.
We have learned that the best fundraisers are the ones with the lowest initial overhead and the least amount of logistical work!
We have learned to not be too attached to dollar amounts, but to see these events first and foremost as outreach and volunteer engagement/recruitment opportunities. The concert required the most work and capital outlay, and we just broke even financially. We saw it as an overall success as the press surrounding the event did a lot to raise awareness of our service, and bring more prospective volunteers through our doors. The tattoo and film fundraisers were fairly easy to stage, cost relatively little up front and raised decent money between them. Finally, our golf fundraiser was hosted and staged by a person who had lost a family member to suicide some years prior and approached us with the offer.
We also held an outreach event at a local arts festival where we created “listening stations” (booths with hard wired phones inside and out). One trained volunteer inside each booth played a caller with a thought provoking but non-suicidal/ on-super acute crisis story to tell. We asked participants to pick up the phone and simply listen, while our volunteers, in role, shared their stories. The volunteer then thanked the participant for listening.
With the exception of the concert, our goal with each of these events is to have them be, if possible, “The First Annual…” which lowers the logistical bar for us for next year, and starts to build culture, community and history around each event, both within our shop and in our larger community.
Get creative! Ask your volunteers, staff, and local community members for ideas that fit with your mission! Most of all, have fun with it. Treat your volunteers, staff, and participants well, make the most of community engagement opportunities presented, and keep up the dialogue with all of your new and existing partners/ investors! If you are considering a semicolon tattoo event, keep in mind that an organization called Project Semicolon has trademarked some of the associated imagery and verbiage. We reached out to them and got permission in writing before moving forward with the event.
Guest blogger John Reusser is Director of the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline, and serves on the Board of Directors for CONTACT USA. John is also a member of the Idaho Council on Suicide Prevention, a board member of the Livewilder Foundation, and Certified ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) Trainer and a licensed Designated Examiner.
Another texting success story, this time featuring our friends at Samaritans, was covered in a prominent US news publication.
In April, The Boston Globe highlighted the success of Samaritans’ texting program, which you can read here. According to the report, the organization received more than 300 text messages in February, which was nearly triple the number received in January. They expect to receive upwards of 1,000 text messages per month by this summer as word of the program spreads.
Samartians opted to text-enable their helpline number for the purposes of this program, which is part of its success. Another clear contributor to the volume they’re experiencing is their latest advertising partnership with MBTA in Boston which began in January. The T, as it’s known in Boston, began showing messages on LED notification boards with information such as, “Lonely? Desperate? We can help 24/7” featuring Samaritans’ number. This and other messages appear periodically between 7am and 9pm on weekdays, and 9am until 9pm on weekends.
While Samaritans and MBTA had an advertising partnership prior to this one, it was MBTA that approached Samaritans last year about expanding the messaging to reach an even larger audience. You can read more about this advertising program in The Boston Globe article.
From all of us at iCarol, we’d like to congratulate Samaritans on the success they’ve had so far, and we wish them all the best with this life-saving program moving forward.
To learn more about texting with iCarol, join one of our Service Alternatives: Live Chat and Texting webinars. If you’d like to learn more about text-enabling your helpline number check out our blog article, and reach out to our support team to get started.