Helplines are a strange beast: if their utilization is high, one can assume that either the community is really in need of their service and they deserve more money. On the other hand, if they are effective at diffusing crises, one might see their usage drop as fewer people in the community need them.
Most helplines, though, are seeing calls go up year after year, as their populations get bigger and more people find themselves dealing with mental and physical health, financial and relationship issues, suicide and bereavement and all the other things that bring a person to call.
One way that helplines can improve their position is via funding for grants to meet particular populations needs. For instance, Distress Centre Peel operates seniors services, launched in part with funding from the New Horizons for Seniors program.
So here are some marketing ideas you may not have considered for your helpline:
- Host a contest – Have individuals in the community (they could be high school students, community college or University students or even adults) participate in building a part of your organization. Offer a prize equal to a little more than you would have paid. For instance, for a $250 prize have individuals suggest a new slogan for your helpline. Work with local media outlets to popularize the contest – which will also popularize your helpline in the process.
- Real Time Tweeting – Each time your helpline intervenes in a crisis (for instance, you dispatch an ambulance or police to someone’s location), tweet using your organization’s Twitter. This is a very “in your face” way of letting people know the impact you are having in your community.
- Magnets – For organizations who produce magnets with their phone number on them, get creative. For instance, you can place the magnets on pay-phones in your community so that individuals in crisis can still reach you, especially if you have a toll-free line available.
- Giving away products – Produce a guide on deep breathing, cognitive thought distortions or stress management (or maybe you already produce these for your workers to use on the phone) and give it away to local community agencies. They’ll be able to support their clients and your organization’s name gets out there.
- Reach out personally – This one may run up against some ethical boundaries at your organization so you’ll want to check with your Executive Director/Board of Directors first, but if you see someone in the newspaper or in the community who you think would benefit from your service, reaching out to them rather than you reaching out to you can be very lucrative. I know of one helpline that runs a suicide survivor support group (not Distress Centre Durham, where I
currently volunteernow work) that reads the obituaries looking for individuals who have died by suicide, to offer supportive phone calls and a spot in the next support group. Because all of the services are free, they’ve heard nothing but good from this move.
At the end of the the day, it comes down to being proactive rather than reactive. When people are in crisis you don’t want them to have to find you, you want your information already in their pocket, on the payphone, or in their Twitter feed so that you become a no-brainer.
One advantage of this is that if you target your approaches to particular groups (e.g. seniors or youth) you can see a quantifiable increase in the number of calls from those individuals.