Our next webinar is coming up on Wednesday, March 7th at 1pm EST. Traditional competency frameworks are very much based on employment and paid career opportunities. But what if these frameworks could be applied to volunteer work that could help volunteer coordinators, managers, and others identify the best potential volunteers for a position?
That’s the topic that our presenters, Laura Mayer and Liz Barnes, will discuss in our webinar. They created a volunteer competency framework that helps identify and define a high performance volunteer, and refines the recruiting process to predict which candidates will perform successfully and stay with the agency for a long time. The framework helps take that “gut feeling” you may have about who will be a great volunteer during their interview, and put its into a measurable format.
About Our Presenters:
Laura Mayer, Director, PRS CrisisLink
Ms. Mayer is the Program Director at PRS CrisisLink, a 24-hour crisis hotline, textline and telephone reassurance program serving northern Virginia and the District of Columbia. PRS CrisisLink is a program of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, Inc. and exists so that individuals living with mental illness, substance use disorders, mild intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, and anyone who faces life crises can achieve safety, personal wellness, recovery and community integration. Ms. Mayer is a graduate of George Mason University’s Community and Global Health program and has brought cost effective and evidence-based suicide prevention programming to the local community. In 2014, Ms. Mayer partnered with the local public mental health system to provide crisis texting to the Fairfax County Public School System and the surrounding communities. Ms. Mayer is a member of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Steering Committee, Suicide Prevention Alliance of Northern Virginia, the Fairfax County Youth Suicide Fatality Review Team and mental health promotion workgroups in several jurisdictions. Ms. Mayer is a certified Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Trainer, Suicide Survivor Support Group Facilitator and holds certifications in suicide risk assessment, domestic violence danger assessments and mental health first aid. She has been interviewed and featured by Comcast Newsmakers and NBC4’s Changing Minds Campaign.
Ms. Liz Barnes is the Assistant Director, Plans and Policy at the Department of Defense Suicide Prevention Office. Her portfolio responsibilities include developing suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention policies, guidance, and strategic planning, as well as the Department of Defense lead for the Veterans/Military Crisis Line and BeThere Peer Support and Outreach Call Center. Ms. Barnes served in the United States Army for nine years in the Ordnance Corps and Adjutant General Corps and had a variety of assignments at the installation level, National Guard Bureau, and Army Staff. Since 2009, Ms. Barnes has worked in the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness in a variety of positions focusing on personnel policy, human resources, and congressional affairs. In 2012, Ms. Barnes was selected to assist in the integration efforts of the Department’s recommendations with the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission. Ms. Barnes is a Board member at Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services (PRS) Inc. and a volunteer hotline and textline crisis worker and core trainer at Psychiatric PRS CrisisLink, in northern Virginia. Ms. Barnes established and co-leads a suicide bereavement support group that fills a gap in services for suicide loss survivors ages 18-24 years old in the Washington Metropolitan area. Ms. Barnes is also an Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) Trainer. Ms. Barnes holds a Bachelor’s Degree from McDaniel College in Sociology and a Master’s Degree from Georgetown University in Human Resources Management.
A user’s security level controls what they can see and do while signed in to iCarol. There are five basic security settings you can assign to any user, ranking from least capabilities to most they are: Trainee, Standard, Enhanced, Supervisor, and Admin. In addition to this overall security setting, there are many different Advanced Security Settings that you can enable for an individual user that allow for more customization for that particular user’s capabilities.
When Admin users first sign in to iCarol, they see a unique dashboard. This dashboard shows information that is mainly useful just to those who have this highest security permission, such as access to the iCarol User Community for networking and communication with other Admins worldwide, and invoicing and subscription information, for example.
One feature of that unique dashboard is the ability to see details on the current version of iCarol being used, and information about past and future releases and what functions those releases include. This is information that is helpful to all users, both non-Admin and Admin alike, so starting with our next release, tentatively scheduled to occur on April 4th, non-Admin users will see information about release history and future release plans on their own dashboard when they sign in.
This will help educate and inform users about the release process and will prepare users for visible changes they may notice in their systems. By providing this information directly we hope it will reduce the number of inquiries Admin users will receive from their staff and volunteers who are assigned lower security levels. In fact, in many centers there are very few people with an Admin setting, and in some instances of large networks, there may be no Admin users on site at a particular organization location.
We hope that by having access to this information, all of your users will be better informed about the iCarol system they are using and what changes they might expect to see, simultaneously reducing the need for Admin users to field questions about these changes. If you have any questions about this change, please contact our Support Team by opening a case.
During spring break and other common vacation periods, staff and volunteers may need to adjust the time they serve at your agency. You want to ensure that your calendar is up-to-date with all changes and the following iCarol features are there to assist.
Unregister from a shift
If a volunteer or staff member has already signed up for or been assigned to a shift, but realizes that they cannot serve the shift, they can un-register from the shift. To do so, the volunteer or staff member will use the shifts area of iCarol to navigate to the day of their shift, and will click on their name in the list of shifts. A pink box will appear to the right, and in that box, there is an “Unregister” button which they should click.
Clicking this button will remove the person’s name from the shift, and it will revert to an “Open” shift so someone else can sign up for it.
This feature is similar to the “Unregister a shift” feature, but goes an extra step and facilitates the coverage for shift assignment changes. If a volunteer or staff member has already signed up for or been assigned to a shift, but realizes that they cannot serve the shift, they can ask for a substitution. To do so, the volunteer or staff member will use the shifts area of iCarol to navigate to the day of their shift, and will click on their name in the list of shifts. A pink box will appear to the right, and in that box, there is an “Ask for Substitution” button which they should click.
Clicking this button will send an email to all users indicating that the volunteer or staff person is looking for a substitute, and will highlight the shift in yellow so it is easily spotted. If someone would like to substitute, they would navigate to this shift in the Shifts area of iCarol, and click the Accept button.
Whether or not you allow un-registration or shift substitutions, and how soon before the start of a shift a person can unregister or ask for a substitution, are settings Admin’s can control via the Shifts tab in Admin Tools.
Exceptions to Repeating Assignments
If you have members that are assigned to the same shift over a period of time, the repeating assignment is a great tool to use. This tool allows you to collectively schedule those repeating assignments and it also handles exceptions, such as to remove the person from the shift during a particular time span when they will be on vacation. To do so, use the shifts area of iCarol to navigate to the first shift within a repeating shift assignment that they would like to unregister for and click on their name. A pink box will appear to the right, and in that box, there is a link labelled “Repeating assignment” which they should click.
This will cause the following box to pop-up:
Firstly, the volunteer or staff person should click the radio button next to “Remove”. Next, using the drop-down boxes, they should indicate what time frame (every, every other, each month’s first, etc.) and what day of the week they would like to be removed from. The date next to “between” will be defaulted to the date of the shift the volunteer or staff person is adjusting. The volunteer or staff person should adjust the date next to “and”, or check the box next to “no end date” to remove themselves from every shift into the future. Finally, they should click the “Make these changes” button.
If you have any questions about these tools, please do not hesitate to submit a case to the support team via the online case management tool, found in the Help menu in iCarol.
When it comes to training our helpline volunteers we all seek the same result: success. How we achieve that success varies amongst centers. How can you improve your training while balancing the needs and limitations of your agency? Here are some key factors to consider when creating or transforming your training.
Selecting Prospective Volunteers
Volunteer selection is an important part of the process in order to determine if a prospective volunteer can be an effective crisis interventionist and is the right fit for your agency. Volunteer selection can be done individually or in a group setting. Identify the appropriate person/s to provide this, such as staff and/or current volunteers. Just because someone wants to volunteer on a crisis line, doesn’t always mean that they should. Protecting your agency, those we serve and the volunteer are all critical pieces to keep in mind. Identify individuals you feel believe in and can carry out your mission, possess the qualities and skills you find important and are trainable.
Choosing the right facilitator/s to provide the training is important. The facilitator/s should preferably have experience in crisis intervention, teaching, a strong knowledge of the material and familiarity with how the crisis room operates. You may want to consider offering opportunities to current volunteers to co-facilitate sessions.
Other important skills you may want to consider when selecting a facilitator:
Ability to adapt and utilize different teaching and learning styles/techniques
Ability to provide meaningful feedback
Ability to identify individuals that need to discontinue the training
Ability to debrief individuals, training can be intense and trigger individuals
Possesses keen observation skills
Professional, organized, punctual, represents the agency well
Actively engages well with others
Has a good sense of humor
Duration and Schedule
How long should training be? The duration of your training should reflect the amount of time needed to properly teach and prepare individuals. It may be tempting or more convenient to provide a shorter training, but that may not always be in your best interest. There are advantages to offering shorter and longer trainings. Shorter trainings may attract more volunteers because it is less of a time investment and they produce volunteers that are ready to take calls sooner. Longer trainings can provide more time to teach and develop volunteers and give you the opportunity to get to know each of them better. Invest the time; you are only as good as your training.
Give thought to the amount of time between trainings, to give your volunteers and instructor time to process what has been taught and keep them rejuvenated. Allowing a few days between training classes can be beneficial. As you are scheduling your training keep the calendar in mind, you may want to avoid scheduling your training too close to any holidays.
Make sure the training environment is comfortable. Important features may include:
Easily accessible bathrooms
Remember to cater to different learning styles and don’t be afraid to experiment. More agencies are offering courses on line, which can be convenient but may exclude those that are not computer savvy. However, don’t forget to offer some traditional courses in person because human contact is invaluable.
Asking volunteers to practice using their own past resolved crises instead of made up scenarios can be really beneficial. It offers them the opportunity to bond with the other trainees, see firsthand how the crisis intervention works and most importantly, demonstrates how hard it can be to be vulnerable and how brave our callers are to share their stories with us.
Debrief your volunteers after every session
Provide a balance of exercise, didactic and skill practice
Ask volunteers to observe the crisis room and calls
Provide opportunities for continuing education
Send volunteers to workshops and conferences
Keep the training and topics up to date
Get their feedback and make changes accordingly
Prepare them, but most importantly have fun
Once the volunteers complete the training, don’t forget to honor them with a graduation celebration. Certificates, awards, cake and small gifts are some nice ways to honor the graduates. You may also want to consider hosting a graduation party that includes crisis line workers and other agency staff, including the CEO.
In iCarol, there are five security levels available for users in your system; Trainee, Standard, Enhanced, Supervisor and Admin. Each of these levels enables users to see and use a particular set of tools and functions in iCarol. Further to this, using Advanced Security settings, you can fine-tune exactly which tools and functions each user can see and use. This article will provide an overview of the Security Levels, and definitions of the settings found in Advanced Security Settings.
Security Level is found on the Admin tab of user profiles, as below:
As shown in the above screenshot, there is a link that will take you to an explanation of each security level. This link will show a chart that explains what each security level can see and do in iCarol. Here is a screenshot of the chart:
In general, Admins are the highest security level and can see and use all tools and functions in iCarol by default, with some exceptions that will be pointed out later in this article. Supervisors can see and use everything Admins can, except sending welcome emails to new users and accessing the Admin Tools menu. Again, as with Admin, there are a few exceptions that will be pointed out. Enhanced and Standard users have access to fewer tools and functions, and Trainees have access to very few tools and functions.
Advanced Security Settings
Many of the Advanced Security settings are self-explanatory. Those that are not or where additional information may be helpful to understand what the setting enables will be noted here.
Allowed to access Call Reports and Repeat Callers – This is the setting that enables the user to see “Calls” in the left hand menu, and therefore view and submit call reports.
Can give feedback on call reports – This setting enables the user to see and use the “Feedback” text box in call reports to provide feedback to the user who submitted the call report.
Can review call reports – If you have enabled the function that staff can mark call reports as “reviewed for accuracy”, this setting allows the user to see and use the “Report has been reviewed for accuracy” check box at the bottom of call reports when viewing them.
Can only see call reports submitted by themselves – When the user views the “All Calls” page, only call reports they have submitted will appear in the list of submitted call reports. Further, this means they can only view the details of call reports they have submitted themselves.
Can access Specialized Call Export Tool – This is an add-on feature that enables the creation of resource lists in Word or Excel format. This setting enables users who are not Admins to use this tool.
Can certify computers – If you are using Restriction and Certification, this setting enables non-Admins to user the Certification tool to certify a computer.
Exempt from Restriction – If you are using Restriction and Certification, and the user belongs to a Security Level that is restricted; this setting exempts them from restriction. Depending on settings made on the Tools tab of Admin Tools, Restriction may also apply to Admins and Supervisors. If this is true, to exempt a particular Admin or Supervisor from Restriction, this setting must be manually checked.
Can only see call reports for programs to which they belong – This setting only appears if you are using the add-on feature Programs. This is the setting that restricts users to only seeing call reports that belong to the same programs they do.
Can only see caller profiles for programs to which they belong – This setting only appears if you are using the add-on feature Programs. This setting restricts which repeat callers the user can see and choose for use in a call report. Please note: This setting is not given to any Security Level by default. Therefore, if a user needs this setting, it must be manually checked.
Can use Call Reports residing in other iCarol system – This setting only appears if a caller report from another iCarol system is being shared with your system. This setting enables the user to see and create call reports using the shared call report. Please note: This setting is not given to any Security Level by default. Therefore, if a user needs this setting, it must be manually checked.
Can access Outbound Calls – This setting enables the user to see the Outbound Calls button on the main Calls page, if this tool is turned on in the system.
Can only access Outbound Calls, but not see Call Reports – If a user should only have access to the Outbound calls tool, and should not be able to see and use Call Reports, check this setting.
Allowed to access Shifts – this is the setting that enables the user to see “Shifts” in the left hand menu, and therefore view the shift calendar and sign up for shifts.
Hide the list of people currently in On Call shifts, on the main Calls page – If this setting is unchecked, at the top of the Calls page will be a list showing who is currently signed up for On Call shifts. If this setting is checked, this will not show.
Can only see shifts for programs to which they belong – This setting only appears if you are using the add-on feature Programs. This setting restricts which shifts the user sees on the shift calendar to just those that are for the programs he or she belongs to.
Allowed to access Resources – this is the setting that enables the user to see “Resources” in the left hand menu, and therefore view and search Resources through that link and through the call report form.
Can activate/inactive resources – this refers to the “Status” field in resource records. This setting enables users to change to status to and from Active, Inactive, and Active but do not refer.
Can approve resource changes – This setting only applies to those systems using Workflow rules for the resource database.
Can QA resources – This setting only applies to those systems using Workflow rules for the resource database.
Can access verification – This setting enables the user to use the Automated Verification add-on feature.
Data export options – As noted at the top of this section, if any of these are selected, the person can access the Data Export tool from the bottom of the home page inside of iCarol.
Can always see the full names of staff and volunteers – This setting applies when Admins have made changes to the way user names are displayed in iCarol via the Vols and Staff tab in Admin tools.
Allowed to access Vols and Staff – this is the setting that enables the user to see “Vols-Staff” in the left hand menu, and therefore view the list of users in the system.
Allowed to access Chatboard – this is the setting that enables the user to see “Chatboard” in the left hand menu, and therefore view and post messages to the Chatboard.
Allowed to access Internal Chat – this is the setting that enables the user to see “Internal Chat” in the lower right hand corner of the screen when logged into iCarol, and therefore use this tool to chat with other users that are logged in. Please note: This setting is not given to any Security Level by default. Therefore, if a user needs this setting, it must be manually checked. Alternatively, this option can be checked for everyone by using the “Enable Internal Chat for Everyone” link on the Vols and Staff tab of Admin Tools.
Allowed to access Events – this is the setting that enables the user to see “Events” in the left hand menu, and therefore view the Events calendar.
Allowed to access News & Fun – this is the setting that enables the user to see “News” in the left hand menu, and therefore view the News page.
Statistics – With this drop-down menu, a user can be given access to see “Statistics” in the left hand menu, and therefore run various reports with this tool.
Can receive Instant Messages in iCarol – This setting will only appear if you are using the instant messaging/chat add-on feature. This setting enables the user to assume and respond to chat conversations from the Messaging page. Please note: This setting is not given to any Security Level by default. Therefore, if a user needs this setting, it must be manually checked.
Can receive Texting/SMS Messages in iCarol – This setting will only appear if you are using the texting/SMS add-on feature. This setting enables the user to assume and respond to SMS conversations from the Messaging page. Please note: This setting is not given to any Security Level by default. Therefore, if a user needs this setting, it must be manually checked.
Ample staffing at your non-profit helpline is always a top challenge, but bad weather brings with it a whole new set of staffing hurdles. Snowy and icy conditions* can especially spell trouble for seamless shift coverage. Particularly powerful storms not only disrupt travel for days, but they have the potential to impact essential infrastructure like electricity and running water. These weather events take strategy and pre-planning to work through them successfully.
Depending on the severity of the storm, you may have no special plan at all except to tell your specialists that they are expected to be there for their shift or find a substitute to cover for them. In many snow storms, travel is possible so long as precautions are taken, such as driving at slower speeds and being extra vigilant. Call centers in urban settings may also benefit from having volunteers living within walking distance or taking public transportation.
But sometimes travel conditions can become extremely hazardous or even impossible. What then? Here are some methods we’ve commonly seen:
The show must go on – Shifts go on as scheduled no matter what. Workers who can’t make it in must give ample notice and find substitutes who are able to travel. iCarol’s shift scheduling tools support you and your staff throughout this process; automatic substitute request emails greatly improve the visibility of your needs and the chances of pick-ups from others.
Pros: Little to no prior planning or change to your normal operations.
Cons: The absence of any back up plan can spell trouble, so you should have some alternative options in mind just in case. Your volunteers may have the best intentions of making it in, but the reality is that Mother Nature can easily stop us in our tracks and there’s only so much a person can realistically do when faced with heavy accumulations and impassable roads. You won’t want to be faced with the scenario where the previous shift is stuck with no relief. Take a moment to also consider the consequences of a potential road accident and injury to your volunteer when traveling in dangerous conditions, and the emotional and potentially litigious repercussions of demanding that volunteers travel in unsafe conditions. Further, when a State of Emergency is declared, it often requires that road travelers have their vehicle outfitted with special equipment, and drivers disobeying the order may even be fined.
Transfer your calls – In some instances there may be a partner agency, satellite office of your program, or a back-up center in an area unaffected or less affected by the weather, and they can take the lead on operations for a period of time. Our Call Report form sharing functionality makes it easy for you to pass your service delivery on to other centers, while they use your preferred form(s) to log the interactions they’re taking on your behalf. This also ensures your data collection and the resulting reporting can be seamless regardless of who is actually providing the service.
Pros: Less direct impact on you, your volunteers, and staff during the event. Being able to simply forward your service to someone else is very convenient.
Cons: This does come with a few sacrifices. First, your service delivery is being entrusted to others for a period of time. Necessary MOU’s and other contracts should be in place well in advance to ensure that same or acceptable level of service will be provided by the back up center. Consider any financial compensation that must be paid out as well. And you’ll want to have understandings about proper data collection, call handling policies, and more.
Work from home – Technology has made it easier than ever to turn any setting into a call center, even your workers’ homes. Calls could get forwarded to that worker’s personal phone or a phone loaned to them from the office. Chats or texts can be taken from virtually anywhere as well. Special tip for iCarol users who might employ this method: You must either turn off ‘Restriction’ (the feature that makes it so your workers can’t see call reports from a personal computer outside the office) or give your staff and volunteers permissions to install the iCarol Certification Tool on their computer. You can read more about this here.
Pros: You’re unlikely to get much push back from your volunteers or staff about this plan; the idea of staying warm, cozy, and off the roads will send many a helpline worker to their happy place. Plus, you won’t have to worry about people physically making it in to the call center for their shift. Worried about productivity? The term is referred to as “shirking from home” — the concern that your employees won’t actually get anything done and left to their own devices will shirk their responsibilities. The good news is, numerous studies have discovered that this is a generally unfounded fear. A Stanford University study of call center workers found home work resulted in a 13% performance increase, people took fewer breaks and sick days, and 4% more calls per minute handled thanks in part to a quieter and more convenient working environment. Home workers also reported improved work satisfaction, and their attrition rate was cut in half. These days there are plenty of communication methods available making it so that remote workers won’t feel disconnected. Keep in mind that with iCarol your supervisors can remotely silent monitor chat and text conversations, leave feedback on logged interactions, put out News alerts, send instant messages to your workers via Internal Chat, send emails and SMS messages, and more. Technology has made us more connected with one another than ever before, even if we’re physically separated by many miles.
Cons: Most modern phone systems have many remote controls that allow you to sign in remotely and forward calls as needed, but some might require you to be on-site to activate the call transfers. If there are no remote capabilities for controlling where the calls are landing, then that means someone has to make it into the office to flip the switches, possibly rendering the work-from-home scenario moot. You’ll also want to consider home office digital security, and whether or not having employees work off-site violates the terms of any of your contracts. There’s also the matter of assuring your volunteers and staff have a suitable work environment free from distraction or disruptive noise or potential confidentiality violations. They also won’t be able to take advantage of some of the infrastructure that may be available at your center, like battery backups or generators in case of a power outage.
Camping out – Marshmallows optional. When the forecast calls for dangerous weather and snow accumulations that might make travel impossible, make a decision ahead of time to suspend the usual schedule, and instead have a crew arrive prior to hazardous road conditions developing. This crew will stay for a period of time until travel is safe again and shifts can resume.
Pros: Again, you’ll be free from having to worry about workers traveling or one shift getting stuck because relief didn’t arrive. The whole idea here is that they know they’ll be stuck for awhile, and they’re (hopefully) okay with that. This is a policy you could develop long before winter weather strikes, so that you aren’t faced with a chaotic scramble for a solution just before a blizzard hits. You may even cultivate your list of willing participants ahead of time as well. Being able to make these decisions in advance without the storm bearing down on you is certainly a benefit, simply activate the plan when needed.
Cons: Directors, Managers, and other decision-makers will want to stay in close contact and clearly communicate expectations, especially concerning staff arrival time and decisions about when normal operations should resume. Volunteer or staff health and well-being is a concern. Does your call center have adequate facilities to keep them comfortable for an extended stay of 24 hours or more? Think about bathrooms, bathing and personal hygiene, and food access and preparation. Mentally and emotionally, how will your staff deal with being at the office for a long period of time? They’ll need to have regular breaks and take time for uninterrupted sleep, which means this plan usually requires at least two participants. You’ll also want to review labor laws in your area to be sure your policy doesn’t violate ordinances relating to a worker’s right to ample breaks, and whether or not additional financial compensation is required.
How do you keep your helpline operating in spite of dangerous travel conditions for your volunteers and staff?Do you employ one of the strategies above, or do you handle winter storm scheduling some other way? We’d love to hear about it! Leave us a comment!
* While this article refers specifically to blizzards and other winter weather conditions, these strategies could be employed during any disaster scenario, natural or man-made.
Kudos to all you amazing Volunteer Managers out there. You do everything from recruitment to training to supporting and event planning. Check out a great blog by Volunteer Canada and infographic that goes over the 15 Roles that Volunteer Managers play. Your helpline couldn’t run without your great work bringing the talent and time of volunteers to your agency. On behalf of everyone here at iCarol, thank you for what you do!
September is considered the peak of hurricane season in the Atlantic, but disaster can strike all year ’round and in all regions. Earthquakes, wildfires, blizzards, tornados, floods, super storms – all areas have seen their share of destructive events.
Non-profit helplines play a large role in any community’s disaster plan. Local governments often partner with these helplines and advertise their contact information during disasters as a place to contact for non-emergency information and referral. Information about shelters, emergency food or water drops, road closures, and shelter-in-place tips, are just a few examples of the information that these helplines can relay to the public in a local emergency.
The availability of such services in times of disaster is crucial – they serve as a way for residents to get much needed information and listening support, while also reducing the burden on local government and diverting non-emergency calls away from 9-1-1.
Providing this service presents unique challenges to helpline staff, but iCarol offers a number of solutions to reduce the stress of being there for your community during emergencies.
Benefit from Partnerships
During a disaster helplines in a region often need to work together to coordinate response. Some disasters may force one or more local helplines to close entirely, or at a minimum a helpline may be short staffed. Using iCarol you can easily share responsibility for managing call/text/chat volume and resource maintenance by using our collaborative options.
We’ve discussed in previous posts how you can build chat or text networks using iCarol, and such a collaboration would come in extra handy if your center needs to shut down or simply offload some traffic during a disaster. And most phone systems allow for the easy transfer or forwarding of calls.
With Call Report sharing capabilities, forms used by one center can be set up for use by another helpline in the event calls, texts, or chats are being routed elsewhere. By setting up these shared forms, the original call center can be certain that the center answering calls is filling out all the necessary information and collecting the essential data as if the call was being handled by the original center. You’ll still be able to review the forms and collect statistics on those calls handled by your partner.
Collaboration is not just limited to call reporting forms, however. Helplines can also share a database of community referrals and resources with other helplines so that in the event of an emergency, these helplines can access resources not just in their own community, but elsewhere in the region. Further, helplines can partner together to not only access this database to give referrals to help seeker, but can also share in the responsibility of editing these resources.
Collect Essential Data
In the event of a disaster, helplines will likely have specific data they wish to collect on those disaster-related calls, as well as needing a way to separate those calls, chats, or texts from others that may ring through to the center. It’s also very common for local governmental and other agencies to request this data from the helplines so they can monitor the needs of the community and respond accordingly for this and future events.
The key to collecting data in iCarol is found within the customizable report forms you fill out for each client interaction. Using the robust form editing tools, staff can add necessary questions and other fields for data collection when needed, so as soon as the disaster-related calls come in they are ready to collect the necessary information on the form. Staff can also use this capability to create a simple checkbox where call takers can note that the call was related to the disaster event, which will help identify these calls during statistical reporting later.
When it’s time to report on the helpline’s calls, staff can run various spreadsheets, reports, and charts. Results are available in real-time and can be filtered based on whether or not the call was related to the disaster, making it easy to run reports specific to the event, excluding unrelated calls.
Offer Alternative Channels
Offering alternative channels becomes especially important during a disaster. Phone lines may be down or it may be easier for people in need to text you during these trying times. Plus the mobility of texting means that someone can reach out to you from anywhere, even if they’ve been displaced from their home.
With iCarol you have complete control over when your messaging service is available, so you can very quickly create a shift and open up your channels as needed. You could even have a special portal specifically for disaster that has its own special report form that collects all the necessary information. And remember with Messaging you can offer all the same referrals and run the same statistical reports as you would for phone calls.
Increase Your Bandwidth
An emergency in your community means your volume could increase, so reaching your volunteers and staff is important. Inside iCarol you can promptly send out an email blast or mass text to alert your staff and volunteers of information they need to know, or ask for additional staffing. Quickly adjust your shift calendar to accommodate more open spots and assign your workers to shifts on the fly.
If you’d like to specifically track disaster staffing, consider creating new shifts and naming them accordingly for easy reporting. Analyze the hours worked for use in future planning, or to apply for future grants or compensation that may be offered by local governments and other organizations.
iCarol can be reached from any internet connected device, so you could explore work-from-home options for disaster staffing. You may wish to temporarily turn off any restrictions in place for which computers can access iCarol, or grant certain staff the ability to certify their home computers.
Provide Critical Information and Referral
During any sort of emergency, information could develop rapidly and change throughout the event. As your resource managers receive information from the various community agencies or collect information released by your local government, they can respond quickly. Update resource records accordingly, or create new ones with just a few clicks. Use the iCarol News area to post the most up-to-date information; it’ll be front and center when your volunteers first sign on so they won’t miss the latest updates.
Much like we mentioned earlier with alternative channels, a disaster could mean that even more people are seeking information in alternative ways. Help seekers likely want self-service options to find resources. This is where your Public Resource Directory comes in. Visitors to your website can use an embedded search of your live resource database right on your website to find what they need.
You can even quickly add highlighted resources during a disaster event to point your visitors right to the information and resources they need. You can also set up advanced, guided searches that are both visually appealing and direct your community to the right resources
Our API is another option for referral sharing, giving you and your developers access to your resource data so it can be used in whatever ways you see fit, such as creating a home built web directory, mobile apps, and more.
Providing assistance to your community during a disaster is a lot of work, but having so many time-saving tools integrated in your helpline software will take some of the stress out of the event, and your seamless response will prove that your helpline is an invaluable resource in your community. And even if your center doesn’t use iCarol, I hope this blog has sparked some ideas for how your helpline can plan ahead and more easily provide services when your community needs it most.
The Points of Light Foundation will hold a free online disaster exercise next Tuesday that will help organizations, agencies, and volunteers be better prepared to respond to disasters.
According to information provided by Points of Light, they are the world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service. They mobilize millions of people to take action in various opportunities. They have affiliates in 250 cities and partnerships with thousands of non-profits and corporations. Points of Light engages four million volunteers in 30 million hours of service each year.
They’ve provided the following information about this exercise:
Operation Volunteer Placement allows agencies and organizations tasked with the coordination of spontaneous volunteers during a disaster to exercise their plan in a web-based simulation. Participants work together as a unified team in establishing, managing and demobilizing a Volunteer Reception Center.
This exercise is intended for group interaction and should include local partners involved in the management of disaster volunteers, including EMAs and sister government agencies, VOADs, and other nonprofits. This exercise is self-paced and can be accessed between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. ET. It lasts between 90 minutes and three hours, depending on group interaction.
NOTE: While intended for group interaction, each participant should individually register to ensure receipt of post-exercise certificate of participation.
Our clients spoke and we listened! Many clients expressed a wish for iCarol to be able to leverage text messaging in new and different ways. Therefore, we added three new ways to use text messaging in iCarol. This article will outline how to send text notifications and text messages to other users in your iCarol system, and a future article will outline how to conduct follow-ups via text message. These new options carry no set-up fee, but you will be charged a monthly fee for the text messages sent, at a rate of $40/1000 messages/month.
The new SMS options will first need to be turned on by an Admin in your iCarol system. They can be found by clicking Admin Tools in the left hand menu, and then the “Messaging” tab. Doing so will take you to the page pictured below, where you will want to click the box next to the first two options to place a check mark there, then click the “Save all settings” button at the top of the screen.
Those individuals who would like to be able to receive SMS messages from other users or would like to receive notifications via SMS will need to edit their user profiles to include a mobile phone number, and to give permission for SMS messages to be sent to them. To do so, the user, or an Admin on their behalf, will click Vols-Staff in the left hand menu, then click on the name of the person whose profile they would like to edit. Next, click the Contacts tab, the click the Edit button at the top of the screen. Next, enter a phone number into the Mobile Phone field, and click the box next to “I permit SMS’s to be sent to this mobile phone” to place a check mark there. Finally, click the Save button at the top of the screen.
Please note the text in red. SMS messages from iCarol may be sent at any time. It is suggested that if you would not like to receive SMS messages during certain time frames, you explore your mobile phone options to determine if there is a setting you can use to delay delivery of SMS messages to certain time frames. Most mobile phones have this option so that, for example, it can be set so that SMS messages are not delivered between the hours of 11pm and 9am. Any message that might have been sent during that time frame is not delivered until after 9am. Alternately, most mobile phones also allow users to set their phone to silent, so that the notification sound that usually plays when a phone call or text message is received is not heard.
Once the option to send SMS notifications is turned on, additional options are displayed on the Notifications tab of user profiles as below.
Each individual, or an Admin on their behalf, can edit these options to indicate which notifications they would like sent via SMS.
To send a SMS message to another user, follow the steps below.
1. Click Vols-Staff in the left hand menu
2. Click on the name of the person you would like to send a message to
3. Click the Contact Info tab of the user profile
4. Click the mobile phone number
5. A new tab or window will open where you can type your message and send it
Non-Admin users can only send SMS messages to one user at a time. Admin users can send a SMS message to multiple users at once. They would do so by following these steps:
1. Click Vols-Staff in the left hand menu
2. Click the boxes next to the names of the people you would like to send a SMS message to, so there are check marks placed there
3. Scroll to the bottom of the screen and click on the Send SMS link
4. The form to type your message and send it will appear
A new report has been added to the Statistics page of iCarol to help you track how many SMS messages are being sent from your system. Admins can access this report by clicking Statistics in the left hand menu, then the Messaging menu. This report contains several filters so you can determine from what area of iCarol the SMS messages are being sent. “Between Staff and Volunteers” is the option to choose if you would like to see how many notification messages and messages between users are being sent.
If you have any questions or need any clarification on this functionality, please do not hesitate to send a case to iCarol Support!