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Posts Tagged ‘I&R’

Hurricane Harvey brings record flooding to Texas

4th Reconnaissance Marines support rescue efforts in wake of Hurricane Harvey

Like many others, we’ve been watching the effects of Hurricane Harvey in southeast Texas, stunned by the images of record setting flooding and the impact on residents. In particular we’ve been thinking of all of our friends and clients in this area. As is typical of helpline work, they have an important role to play in disaster planning, relief and recovery, all while their own homes and families are at risk. We’re told that 2-1-1 Texas has remained operational throughout — a truly amazing feat in the wake of this historic hurricane. As we hear from them and gain permission to share their experience and stories of those they helped, we hope to bring that information to you.

Harvey serves as a reminder to all non-profit services and particularly helplines, contact centers, and 2-1-1s that you have a role to play in your community’s disaster plan as government services look for partner organizations that can disseminate life-saving information, offload call volume to government switchboards, and provide information across a variety of communication methods to make sure everyone is reached. Meanwhile, these not-for-profits naturally have to concern themselves with the safety of their own staff and their own infrastructure in order to remain operational. With Hurricane Irma now making its way towards North and Central America, and months left in hurricane season, it’s time to consider your disaster plan. And of course disaster goes far beyond tropical storms and flooding. Wild fires, earthquakes, tornadoes, blizzards, and other forms of disaster threaten communities across the globe.

We’ve recently been made aware of a website that provides a number of free resources helpful to any organization as they plan and prepare for disasters. You can access these resources here.

If you are interested in aiding in Harvey relief efforts, the United Way has announced establishment of a Harvey Recovery Fund. In the midst of these events it’s usually recommended to donate money rather than items, as storage space tends to be in short supply but cash allows organizations to purchase items on the ground for immediate distribution. They’ve offered information on the various ways you can make meaningful contributions on their website.

We extend our warm thoughts to everyone impacted by Hurricane Harvey. If you have information about relief efforts or if your organization has been directly impacted by Harvey and you would like to share your stories, please .

Photo appears courtesy of the United States Department of Defense. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Niles Lee.

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In Case You Missed it: Roundup of 2014 Enhancements

It’s been a busy year here at CharityLogic, as we’ve added lots of new and enhanced features to iCarol. Below are a few of our favorites. If you’d like more information on how to use any of these, please check the Help section of your iCarol system to access videos and articles, or contact our support team via the case management links, also found in that Help section.

Smart Phone with two thumbs

Outbound texting:

You can send followups via text message. This does not require a subscription to our text messaging add-on (just a fee based on text usage), but if you do have a texting subscription, you could use your iCarol system to respond via text to replies you receive from visitors.

You can now send text messages to colleagues from within iCarol, and users can designate if they’d prefer to receive automated reminders – such as upcoming shift reminders — via text message instead of or in addition to via email. Here too, this does not require a subscription to text messaging, and will only incur a text usage fee.

Greater resource search success:

If you use iCarol’s Public Resource Directory to let visitors search your resource database, you could improve their search results with a new tool that lets you associate colloquial terms (“I’m hungry”) to terms in your database (“food pantries”). Clients using this — this method is called Folksonomy — tell us they’ve seen stellar results. Find controls for this Folksonomy tool in the Resources> Manage Resources screen, in the Taxonomy column. There’s no additional charge to adjust the folksonomy controls for your Public Resource Directory.


  • Instant Messaging: The counselor screen has a new streamlined design.

  • Instant Messaging: Would you like to have us customize your Visitor Chat screens and Chat Now button, so the colors and graphics better match your website? Please contact support (there is a one-time charge for this).

  • Collaborating w partnersInstant Messaging and Text Messaging: We’ve improved the ability to let partners handle messaging sessions for each other, which also streamlines how partners in a collaborative messaging environment can share duties responding to visitors. If you’ve wanted to add a messaging service to your center, but are concerned about having adequate staffing levels, you could consider using this feature to partner with another iCarol-using center — or multiple centers — who could help field your messaging visitor requests.

  • Text Messaging: If you’d like a texting number that connotes a wider geographic range than a number with a typical area code might imply, we now offer texting numbers with toll-free prefixes. Despite the name, these toll-free numbers don’t cost less to use than “regular” texting phone numbers, but to some folks, they connote a more universal service area. As a bonus, we have acquired a nice stock of such texting numbers attractive to help centers, crisis centers, and 2-1-1s. We’ll be happy to let you select from that stock to use with your iCarol texting service on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Automated Resource Verification:

Enhancements include the ability to see the results of verification emails sent, a useful new screen that lets you sort and filter responses, and the ability to save settings for future use.

iCarol API


We’ve extended the functionality of the tool that lets your developers, with your permission, tap into your iCarol-hosted data to create whatever you’d like them to build.

Language Options


Do your call-takers and/or visitors sometimes prefer to work in a language other than English? Please ask us how we can set your system to function nicely in more than one language, letting you toggle between languages on the fly. You can even store resources in multiple languages, too.

Responsive Screens:

Many of iCarol’s screens now look even better on mobile devices. This comes in handy, for example, when volunteers and staff would like to sign up for shifts directly from a smartphone.


Assign taxonomy terms to multiple resources concurrently. We’re always looking for ways to reduce the number of mouse clicks needed to complete a task, and this new feature sure speeds up the resource editing process.

ResourcesEnhanced resource management features:

  • When you create a printable document (.pdf) of an agency record, that document now includes the Agency’s child Program and Site records. Handy for “manual” verification and more!

  • Custom text fields are now searchable, helping you locate resources more quickly and accurately.

  • Calculate your resource database’s “complexity” and view a report estimating annual person-hours required to maintain your database. This may come in handy as you plan out your staffing needs in the new year.

    Bar Chart


    We’ve added a handful of text messaging usage reports, and the aforementioned Resource Complexity Report.


    We’ve added Admin dashboard access to release notes, which detail enhancements to iCarol on an ongoing basis. This list, in addition to the dashboard, is a great place to look to keep current on the ever-expanding list of enhancements.


    There are a whole lot more video tutorials, to help you get the most out of your iCarol subscription.


    Call reports:

    Admins now have editing control of nearly all aspects of call report forms. Make changes instantly and easily.

    More recently we’ve been busy in our labs finishing an Internal Chat tool, which we expect to release in the next few weeks. This tool lets anyone with access to your system exchange short, typed messages with each other, and Admins have total control over who can use this. if you’d like to test this out in your system now and have an advance peek. Otherwise, we’ll keep you posted on the system-wide launch date via the Dashboard, which is where we’ll continue to post all enhancements as they become available.

    It’s sure been a productive year, and we’ve got lots in store for 2015. We welcome your input, and expect to conduct phone-based focus groups with clients throughout the year on topics such as the Public Resource Directory, Messaging, Statistics, and more. Please if you’d like to participate in those, or any other topic. We truly do want to hear your ideas on how we can improve the software to help you help others.

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  • Celebrating Information and Referral Day

    final I&R Day logo

    Beginning in 2011, when the Unites 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 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, or text.

    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 join one of our regular webinars that focuses solely on our Information and Referral tools. We hope you’ll join us sometime to learn more.

    Happy I & R Day, everyone, and kudos on the awesome work you do connecting people with the services they need!

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    iCarol’s new Automated Verification Response Screen

    Recently, the responses screen in the automated verification tool has been updated and expanded to add more tools to make it even easier for you to manage your verifications. Please read on to learn more about the tools now available on this screen.

    The screen is laid out in a table format, with several columns of information. You can reorder any of the columns (alphabetically or by date, depending on the data in the column) by clicking the up or down arrow beside the name of each column. In the upper right hand corner of the screen, there is a search box, so you can search for particular data by resource name, resource type, date, email address or a person’s name.


    You will note there is a column titled “Assigned To”. When an individual sends a verification request, that request and the subsequent responses are assigned to that person. In this way, you can divide the responsibility for automated verification requests and responses between several people. Using the check boxes next to the Resource Name and the “Reassign” button at the bottom of the screen, you can reassign the responses to another worker if you wish. Please also note there is a Delete button at the bottom of the screen. You can use the check boxes next to the Resource Name and this button to Delete particular responses if you wish.


    Also at the bottom of the screen, there are some settings you can use to filter the data in the table. To access these settings, click the link “Show settings”. “Show Verification Responses for” allows you to filter the list to show only those verification responses assigned to you, or those assigned to everyone. “Show Verification Responses in” is used to filter the responses according to what status they are in. The definitions of the statuses are:

    Pending A verification request has been sent, but the verifier has not responded yet.

    Responded The verifier has submitted (responded to) the verification request sent to them, but the response has not yet been approved by someone at your agency.

    Completed The verification response has been approved by someone at your agency.

    “Include the following fields in the Results” will only appear if you are using custom resource fields. These custom fields will appear in a list so that you can filter the responses list to only include those resource records with the chosen custom field.


    Finally, in the top left corner, you can determine how many entries you would like to see per page. The default is 10, but you can change this to 25, 50 or 100. If there are multiple pages of results, you can move through each page by clicking “previous”, “next” or a page number in the lower right hand corner.

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    ICYMI: Check out “American Winter”

    It debuted on HBO nearly two years ago but the stories of struggling families in the documentary film “American Winter” still resonate.

    In case you missed it, this documentary is still worth checking out even though we are now several years past the economic depression that inspired it. The film covers the stories of a diverse set of families in the Portland, Oregan area, all going through their own financial crises.

    What’s unique about this film, and of special interest to those in the helpline industry, is that the film incorporates the local 2-1-1 service into the storytelling. It’s an eye-opening view (especially to those unfamiliar with 2-1-1) of the services, support, and knowledge that 2-1-1 provides to those seeking assistance with basic human needs. So many people were helped by the information and referral specialists of 2-1-1 centers all over the US and Canada during those tough times. It’s wonderful to see a documentary highlight the service and the very real ways these families were assisted, and reminds us that people continue to need those services today.

    So if you haven’t watched the film, check out the trailer (below) and consider watching the documentary streaming via HBO Go, or by purchasing the DVD. It’s a heartbreaking look at the reality of economic inequality and a dark time in our history, but you’ll feel proud of the hard work the helpline industry is doing to make a positive impact.

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    Changes to AIRS Problems/Needs Categories

    If you use the “AIRS Problems / Needs” categories, there will be a small change to them coming with our next update of the taxonomy. AIRS announced they are splitting “Housing and Utility Assistance” into two separate categories: “Housing” and “Utilities”.

    When you subscribe to the 211 Taxonomy in iCarol, you get the benefit of automatic updates and maintenance to the taxonomy about once per quarter, helping you stay current and meeting AIRS accreditation standards. Our next taxonomy update will be in early October 2014 so when that is completed, you’ll see this new Problems/Needs category change reflected in your iCarol system.

    Once the change is in place, you can continue using any number of statistical reports on Problems/Needs to track and report on these issues, like this one showing the Problem/Needs categories with the current category breakdowns.


    Our Taxonomy updates take care of things like adding new codes or replacing codes that have been retired by AIRS. With the October update we will apply the changes to the needs categories, and we’ll automatically and retroactively place previously collected needs into the new appropriate categories, making your annual reports fall in line with what is being requested by AIRS.

    If you’re a current iCarol user and have questions about what it means to use Taxonomy in iCarol, check out our videos found in the ‘Help’ section of your iCarol system. If you have questions or want to add Taxonomy to your iCarol system, log a case with us and we’ll be happy to work with you!

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    Resource sharing initiatives on the horizon

    One of the major challenges that the Information and Referral industry is facing, is finding a way to reliably share currently isolated databases with partners in real-time. Often times in the same metropolitan area, you will have numerous human services agencies managing their own listing of community service providers to whom they may refer their clients for specialized services.

    Just assembling such a database initially is a rather large undertaking, no matter how many such service providers you might be trying to track. But then keeping those records accurate and up-to-date is an ongoing, labor intensive endeavor.

    Now imagine that effort being duplicated by 5, 10 or even 50 agencies, each of whom has an internal need to have such a referral database. The amount of time and resources that are being duplicated is significant.

    So the I&R industry is responding with two different initiatives, both of which aim to make it easier for agencies to share their referral databases with each other, electronically and in real-time, without the need for everyone to be running the same software platform. In each case, the vision is that the agency modifies the software they are running to manage their referral database (which of course iCarol does quite well) to accommodate the developing standards. Once done, the software should be able to both make its own referral database available to partners and third parties, as well as receive such information from those entities.

    From then on, an agency could reduce or eliminate the need for themselves to curate a referral database and instead could rely solely on their partners to provide such data. This gets even more interesting when you contemplate incorporating specialized referral databases by entities that target specific populations, like cancer patients, suicide prevention and so on. One could assemble, through these electronic partnerships, a network of very rich referral databases all curated by subject matter experts.

    Both initiatives are at about the same early stage in their development, where needs are being collected and the specifications are in draft form. Code For America is sponsoring the Open Referral initiative, and the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS) is sponsoring what they are initially calling “Linked Data”. It is still unclear exactly how they will be different, but based on the stated goals of each project, a good guess is that Open Referral will be targeting a lightweight, easy to understand and use specification that can be quickly adopted by software developers. The AIRS “Linked Data” project, on the other hand, will likely be a more complex and powerful specification that would meet the needs of their membership organizations, that follow a highly evolved and detailed set of standards.

    Indeed, the prospect for the industry is thrilling, and iCarol is at the forefront of these efforts. We have senior representatives actively engaged in conferences, discussions and specification development. We’ll continue updating you on these efforts here on this blog, stay tuned for what promises to be an exciting ride.

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    AIRS Presents: Forecasting the Ferocious – Predicting Tornadoes at the Storm Prediction Center

    Webinars - textOn Thursday July 17, 2014 at 2:30pm EST, the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS) will present a Webinar on predicting tornadoes at the storm prediction center.

    Courtesty of AIRS, here is the description of the webinar content:

    “Join Gregory Carbin from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to learn more about tornado and severe storm prediction. Greg is the Warning Coordination Meteorologist at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Prediction, Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma. Greg is considered one of NOAA’s leading experts on tornadoes and severe storm forecasting. He has been interviewed extensively about severe weather and usually provides historical context to national and international media after major events. This webinar is brought to you by the AIRS Disaster Committee and will be inroduced by Janna Shoe, United Way of Greater Houston and Committee Co-Chair.”

    Note: This webinar is only available via the Internet. There will be no telephone connection. If you have a computer that can play the audio on a YouTube video, you should be able to access this webinar

    Click here to Register for the webinar

    This webinar aims to provide useful information for your helpline operations in times of disaster. There are tons of great webinars, training opportunities, and other professional development opportunities presented by AIRS that are only available to members. Want to become a member of AIRS and take advantage of all the great perks of membership? Find out how.

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    AIRS Presents: Family Crisis Centers in Time of Disaster

    Webinars - textOn Monday March 24, 2014 at 4pm EST, the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS) will present a Webinar on Family Crisis Centers in Time of Disaster.

    Courtesty of AIRS, here is the description of the webinar content:

    “Mass fatality incidents arise from natural and man-made disasters (accidental and intentional) and disease outbreaks. This AIRS webinar explains the concept of a Family Assistance Center and the role of an I&R processing missing persons calls following a mass fatality incident.”

    “Learn from David Jobe and Sandra Ray of the United Way of Greater Houston about how their agency plays a significant role as the initial point of contact integrated within a comprehensive strategy for the Houston-Galveston region in southeast Texas.”

    Note: This webinar is only available via the Internet. There will be no telephone connection. If you have a computer that can play the audio on a YouTube video, you should be able to access this webinar

    Click here to Register for the webinar

    This webinar aims to provide useful information for your helpline operations in times of disaster. There are tons of great webinars, training opportunities, and other professional development opportunities presented by AIRS that are only available to members. Want to become a member of AIRS and take advantage of all the great perks of membership? Find out how.

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    How is iCarol better than Google for Information and Referral software? Let me count the ways.

    Would you want police officers driving their personal vehicles for their work? Doctors performing surgery in a spare bedroom at their house, using utensils from their kitchen? Teachers writing their own textbooks? Librarians arranging books by their personal tastes? No – and for similar reasons you want call specialists to make referrals to service providers based on the standards and tools honed by professionals for decades, nation-wide.

    Here are some reasons why Information and Referral software like iCarol is better than using a public search engine like Google, and also why those search engines are poorly suited for professional work.

    Why Information and Referral software is better than Google (or other public search engines):

    • 1. Well-structured resource records and fields that have been tuned for information and referral work – when a call specialist is looking at a record, they know exactly where to find relevant information about a service, like service description, eligibility, contact information, hours of operation, etc.
      2. Search algorithms under your control – yielding predictable, repeatable search results based on factors highly tuned for doing information and referral work, not on factors that are best for generating advertising revenue or that favor entities who happen to have done a good job of search engine optimization.
      3. Geographic service areas – limit search results to just those that serve the client location, and then also sorted by proximity to that location. Otherwise you risk sending a client to a service for which they are not eligible.
      4. Precise categorization of services, with the 2-1-1 Taxonomy or another well-structured category scheme – So for example when you are looking for a “Food pantry”, that term is well defined, sits in a rational place in the taxonomy (so it can be found) and will yield all services available in your community that meet the definition. With over 9,500 such taxonomy terms in a well-structured six-level hierarchy, call specialists can find the right services with high accuracy.
      5. Find related services relevant to the caller – recommends other services that might be useful to the caller, based on referrals made to callers in the past and/or services that are often referred to together.
      6. Annual validation of data – Confidence that the information you are providing is up-to-date and correct in the recent past.
      7. Adherence to your Inclusion Policies – Ensure that incorrect, illegitimate, illegal or immoral resources are not referred to by your call specialists.
      8. Consistent and professional results – For two callers with the same needs and locations but served by different call specialists, they would get the same referrals, as they should.
  • And why public search engines like Google are not well suited for professional I&R work:

    • 1. Human services are in the business of, well, serving humans. They are not in the business of optimizing their website for high rankings in search engines. Many valuable services do not even have websites. Relying on Google to find and rank searches would inevitably miss countless important services in your community.
      2. Websites get outdated leading to incorrect service information.
      3. Services go defunct, even if the websites are still available.
      4. Even if correct, website formats, layout and content are vastly different from service to service, leading call specialists to spend undue time trying to figure out if they offer services a) meeting the clients needs b) that the client is eligible for and c) that is near the client.
      5. Google changes its search algorithm frequently to suit their needs and the needs of their advertisers, often in very controversial but opaque ways.
      6. The terms a call specialist might search for would be of course highly subjective, which would yield different results even for callers with identical needs.
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