Mobile Giving for Your Crisis Line

Introduction

Hi all, after a summer hiatus, I’m back! Mobile giving is all-the-rage these days, especially after natural disasters. We’ve all seen advertisements that say “Text HAITI to 90999” in order to donate $5 to the Red Cross. (That’s a real number.) You might be wondering how you can leverage this concept for your own crisis line or organization.

How Mobile Giving Works

Mobile giving, or donate-by-phone is an easier way to engage your donors. They simply text an SMS short-code from their cell phones, and a pre-determined amount of money is added to their bill. It’s a snap for you and individuals who, in order to donate previously, would have had to sign up with organizations like CanadaHelps, PayPal, or deal with the administrative burden of trying to give you cash or cheques directly.

Advantages

As already stated, mobile giving is easy. Most donors have SMS-capable cell phones and can take the 10 seconds to fire off a text message. In Canada, a mobile giving campaign can be set up that, after the payment of flat service fees, runs automatically. 100% of the money raised is given to your organization.

Mobile giving fundraising messaging is effortless. It can be distributed across social media like Facebook or Twitter, sent in a fundraising letter, or even included on a digital sign. This makes it ideal for almost any time of year, and any type of fundraising.

Disadvantages

There are some disadvantages to mobile giving: namely, if your intended audience does not use a cell phone or does not use SMS texting, they may be more apprehensive. This means that organizations that traditionally solicit funds from an older adult or elderly clientele may prefer fundraising letters or other tangible ways of donating.

Secondly, you have less information provided to you by your fundraising clients. For example, in the simplest mobile giving campaign, you have only the individual’s phone number. This means that giving tax receipts or following up on fundraising is more difficult.

Implementing Mobile Giving At Your Crisis Line

This guide is based on my experience implementing mobile giving at Distress Centre Durham. We elected to run a short, 3-month campaign starting on World Suicide Prevention Day (September 9, 2017). In Canada, all Mobile Giving is managed by the Mobile Giving Foundation (MGF) of Canada, a project of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA).

The Mobile Giving Foundation has agreements with each of the major telecoms in Canada so that 100% of the money donated is given to the charities.

After going to the Mobile Giving Foundation website (http://mobilegiving.ca), we navigated to the “For Registered Charities” section of the website. There, we see the MGF Standards of Participation. These requirements which include being a registered charity, being in good standing with the CRA, operating for more than one year, and having a donor privacy policy, are required to ensure that the MGF only runs campaigns with reputable charities.

There is a short questionnaire in order to receive approval by the MGF to submit a more comprehensive campaign application. After submitting the campaign application, we were emailed the application.

In addition to the organizational information, we also had a few choices to make:

  • Donation amount
  • Which short-code
  • Length of campaign
  • Use of widgets
  • Use of MGF built-in technology or an ASP

These will be explored below.

Donation Amount

We had the choice of $5, $10, or $25 per text. We decided to go with $10 as that is a small enough that most individuals would be willing to make that donation without much thought, but large enough that a short campaign would still be effective. You can run multiple campaigns with different dollar amounts.

For example, you could have donors text SPRITE 5 to donate $5 or SPRITE 10 to have them donate $10. This is achieved through the use of keywords and sub-keywords.

Choosing a Short-Code

We had the choice of 5 short-codes to choose from. We decided to go with 41010, each of the short-codes is a similar 5 digit number (e.g. 21212 or 101010). In a campaign like this, your short-code should be memorable and not easily confused with another organization, if there are others fundraising in the same geographical area.

Choosing a Campaign Length

The MGF allows you to choose a 3-month, 6-month, or 12-month campaign. The service fees (which includes a $350 application fee and then small additional monthly fees for each additional keyword/sub-keyword or widget you use) will be based on the length of your campaign. Many of the add-ons are free with a 12-month campaign which makes this very economical.

Using Widgets

Widgets are follow-ups that you may add to your campaign after the individual texts in to donate. For instance, you might text them back with a Thank You that directs them to a contact page, or to another page on your website. Another widget allows your donors to opt-in to receiving up to 3 follow-up messages.

For the Distress Centre Durham campaign we elected not to use any widgets, preferring to keep the campaign simple.

Using MGF Technology or an Application Service Provider (ASP)

An ASP or Application Service Provider is an organization that can help you manage your campaign. They provide additional tools that allow you to track or manage your campaign more easily, for a fee. Distress Centre Durham elected not to use any ASP when running our first campaign as we wanted to see what was possible with the MGF technology. It turns out their built-in features are more than enough for our needs.

Choosing Keywords and Sub Keywords

A Keyword is the word that an organization texts to donate to you. For example, someone could text SPRITE to 21212 to donate $5 to your fundraising campaign. You might decide that if they text PEPSI to 21212 that they will donate $10, and you could establish these as two separate keywords for your 12-month campaign.

A sub keyword is an additional word that is added onto your keyword in order for you to more granularly manage fundraising. For example, while Distress Centre Durham decided on “SUPPORT” as our keyword, we added the sub keyword DURHAM for fundraising we ran within the Region. Since we have other Online Text and Chat (ONTX) community partners participating, they each have their own sub keyword for their area.

Cost of Campaign

The cost of a mobile campaign is minimal. After your questionnaire is approved, the MGF sends you a price list. Most of the add-ons are free when running a 12-month campaign, with the largest fee simply being the $350 application fee. This makes mobile giving an ideal fundraising campaign for even a very small charity.

I would recommend for a 12 month campaign using one keyword, that you set aside $1,000 for the application fee, and other administrative costs (including getting information like audited financial statements or others available) and paying for advertising to promote your campaign.

Conclusion

Did I miss anything? Do you have any other questions? Please let me know. If you’d like to support Canada’s Online Text and Chat (ONTX) Program or Distress Centre Durham you may text SUPPORT DURHAM to 41010.

Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2017), "Mobile Giving for Your Crisis Line," retrieved on December 14, 2017 from http://dustinkmacdonald.com/mobile-giving-crisis-line/.
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How to Perform Social Return on Investment

Introduction

Social Return on Investment (SROI) is a way of measuring the impact of projects or programs that is especially suited to the work that non-profits do. To see the difference, let’s move from a for-profit to a non-profit mindset. A for-profit’s return on investment (ROI) focuses on money only: for instance, $25,000 investment in supply chain management results in an additional $75,000 in revenue; this means the ROI is 3:1, or $50,000.

Because non-profits don’t often generate revenue, this measure is less useful. Instead, non-profits often track outcomes like the number of clients served. At the Distress Centre, we receive over 7500 calls a year and save approximately 35 lives through emergency intervention. These numbers are useful, but they don’t translate well into a per-dollar figure. For instance, on a budget of $260,000 (a rough estimate), we pay $35 per call, or $7,429 per emergency intervention.

Is $35 per call reasonable? It may appear to be too expensive. What about when we divert an individual from hospital, or prevent a suicide attempt in progress? We have no way to track the monetary benefits of these, until we use SROI.

How SROI Works

SROI works by assigning a monetary value to activities that until now could not be monetized. Some of these are easier to calculate because real dollars are involved (for instance, when you de-escalate someone and they don’t need to go to the hospital, you’ve saved the cost of the police/ambulance and the emergency room service), while some are more difficult (the increased quality of life that one gets from a conversation on a crisis line.)

Value is assigned by a variety of methods that try best to approximate the costs involved. These items that are used to approximate value are called “proxies”, and lists of proxies are available on SROI-related websites.

Performing SROI

SROI has six major steps:

  1. Establish the scope and identify stakeholders
  2. Mapping outcomes
  3. Demonstrating outcomes and giving them a value
  4. Establishing impact
  5. Calculating the SROI
  6. Reporting, using and embedding

These are reviewed in more detail below. The data (charts, financial proxies, explanations, etc.) is reproduced from an unpublished SROI analysis conducted by myself, of the ONTX Chat and Text Program at Distress Centre Durham.

Establish the Scope and Identify Stakeholders

Establishing the scope for an SROI analysis involves identifying the purpose, audience and focus of the analysis. 

The audience for this analysis includes the four pilot Centres, our funding partners (Trillium, United Way and Greenshield Canada) and other services interested in producing a similar analysis of their service. The focus will be on one year of outcomes data collected in the operation of the ONTX project.

Stakeholders, in the SROI methodology, are individuals who experience gains as a result of the service provided. These can be direct gains (such as the reduction in distress experienced by a visitor to the crisis chat service or the savings experienced by not having to use EMS resources transporting a suicidal person to hospital) or indirect gains (such as the career benefits experienced by a responder who delivers the service or the of improved relationships with friends and family visitors may experience.)

In order for stakeholders to be included in the analysis, they must be material – that is, they must experience a benefit as a result of the service.

Mapping Outcomes / The Theory of Change

A theory of change, also known as a logic model, is a cornerstone of the SROI methodology that describes how inputs (the funds and people used in direct service delivery) result in changes (outcomes) that can be quantified to value the service. An example logic model for the ONTX Chat and Text Program is listed below:

Stakeholder Intermediate Outcomes Final Outcome
Visitors
  • Decreased harmful intentions
  • Immediate crisis diffused
  • Decreased suicidal intent
Reduced likelihood of visitor attempting suicide
  • Improved self-esteem, self-control or confidence
  • Less distressed or anxious
  • Options explored
  • Action plan explored
Improved visitor coping skills
  • Decreased isolation and loneliness
  • Improved connectedness
  • Knowing a responder is there for them
Enhanced visitor belonging
Police / EMS
  • Less likely to require ambulance or police service because of a high-risk suicidal caller
Reduced use of 911
  • Fewer responses to suicide deaths because of Responder intervention
Reduced cost to 911/EMS
Medical System
  • Less instances of hospital admission because of self-harm/suicide attempts
Reduced use of public health system

Demonstrating Outcomes and Giving Them a Value

Each of the final outcomes from the chart above needs to be operationalized, which involves identifying concrete elements to suggest an outcome has or will occur. This allows an assignment of financial value to those outcomes in determining the SROI.

Each of the above outcomes requires a financial proxy, or a method of quantifying its value. Some financial proxies are simple unit costs, like the cost of deploying police and an ambulance to respond to a suicidal crisis, while others are more difficult to quantify.

In consultation with stakeholders, a review of the SROI literature (including with other crisis chat services), the following financial proxies were decided upon:

Final Outcome Financial Proxy Calculation (all figures in dollars unless noted) Value per Instance
Reduced Likelihood of Visitors Attempting Suicide One month of life, adjusted with the disability weight assigned to Suicide and Self Harm (Value of a Statistical Life Year (VSLY) / 12 months) x 0.64 weighting $6,900.49
Improved Visitors Coping Skills Cost of two visits to a family doctor/general practitioner 40 per visit x 2 $80
Enhanced Visitor Belonging One week of leisure for the median Canadian income 3922 (yearly leisure expenses) / 52 $75.42
Reduced Cost of 911/EMS Cost of ambulance response for a suicide attempt 600 $600
Reduced Cost of Police Response to Suicide Death Unit cost of two police officers and two paramedics responding for total of 5 hours at median wage 36.53 x 2 x 2 (Police)

25.81 x 2 x 1 (Paramedic)

$249.36
Reduced Use of Public Health System Cost of hospitalization for suicide attempt minus the average cost of an ED visit (998 x 7.74) – 267 – 249.36 $7,208.16

Establishing Impact

The SROI methodology involves totaling the number of outcomes (now quantified as dollar values) against the total cost of inputs required to operate the service. Inputs can include direct service, such as employees, technology costs, advertising and so on.

Because three of the four Centres did not receive funding to hire an independent staff person, a value of 25% on a salary of $40,000 was used. This provides an estimation of the dollar value.

Input Description Value ($)
Distress Centre Durham Staff (prorated to 8 mos.) $15,000 x 0.8333 = $12,500
ONTX Grant (pro-rated to 6 mos.) $257,700 / 4 = $64,425
Community Torchlight Staff (est.) $10,000
Distress Centre Toronto Staff (est.) $10,000
Spectra Helpline (est.) $10,000
Total Inputs $106,925

Number and Dollar Value of Final Outcomes

Based on one year of data (June 29 2015 to June 29 2016), we can see the following outcomes. Only the items directly from the call reports are reported below for this sample analysis. The other intermediate outcomes (such as Less likely to require ambulance or police service because of a high-risk suicidal caller) have been operationalized in the report but are not listed here for space and complexity reasons.

Reduced Likelihood of Visitor Attempting Suicide ($6900.49 x 1,190)

Decreased harmful intentions – 522
Immediate crisis diffused – 301
Decreased suicidal intent – 367

Improved Visitor Coping Skills ($80 x 3,794)

Improved self-esteem, self-control or confidence – 796
Less distressed or anxious – 1831
Action plan explored – 1167

Enhanced Visitor Belonging ($75.42 x 1473)

Decreased isolation and loneliness – 1473

Total

$6900.49 x 1,190
$80 x 3,794
$75.42 x 1473
= $8,626,196.76

Deadweight and Attribution

Next, we have to estimate deadweight and attribution. Deadweight is the percentage of the outcome that would have happened regardless of our involvement. For instance, if a visitor told us that if they couldn’t reach our service, they knew five others they could, it is unlikely that much of the outcome would be lost if they could not access the ONTX pilot.

We have decided to calculate deadweight as a 15% reduction in overall value for every resource a visitor could identify as an alternative to our service. Since the average was 2, we assume 30% in deadweight.

Attribution is the amount of the benefit that is attributed to other persons. Because our service is often the primary intervention we have limited attribution, so for this analysis we will not note any attribution.

This takes our benefit value of $8,626,196,76 and reduces it to $6,038,337.732.

Finishing our Calculation

We take our total benefits generated, divide them by the total cost of the input to find the SROI ratio.

$6,038,337.732 Total Benefit / $106,925 Total Inputs = SROI Ratio of $56.47

For every one dollar invested in the ONTX pilot there is a social benefit of $56.47.

Sensitivity Analysis

Sensitivity analysis is a way of repeating calculations to take into account higher or lower than expected figures. See the table below:

Final Outcome Low Financial Proxy Original Financial Proxy High Financial Proxy Low Value Moderate Value (used for analysis) High Value
Reduced Likelihood of Visitors Attempting Suicide One week of life, adjusted with the disability weight assigned to Suicide and Self Harm One month of life, adjusted with the disability weight assigned to Suicide and Self Harm Two months of life, adjusted with the disability weight assigned to Suicide and Self Harm 1,592.42 6,900.49 13,800.98
Improved Visitors Coping Skills Cost of one visits to a family doctor/general practitioner Cost of two visits to a family doctor/general practitioner Cost of four visits to a family doctor/general practitioner 40 80 160
Enhanced Visitor Belonging One day of leisure for the median Canadian income One week of leisure for the median Canadian income One month of leisure for the median Canadian income 10.75 75.42 301.68
Reduced Cost of 911/EMS N/A Cost of ambulance response for a suicide attempt N/A 600 600 600
Reduced Cost of Police Response to Suicide Death Unit cost of two police officers and two paramedics responding for total of 2 hours at median wage Unit cost of two police officers and two paramedics responding for total of 5 hours at median wage Unit cost of two police officers and two paramedics responding for total of 7 hours at median wage 99.74 249.36 349.10
Reduced Use of Public Health System Cost of hospitalization for 3 days minus the average cost of an ED visit Cost of hospitalization for suicide attempt minus the average cost of an ED visit Cost of hospitalization for 12 days minus the average cost of an ED visit 2,477.64 7,208.16 11,339.64

Based on the low and high values specified we have benefits as follows. The reason we multiply by 0.7 is our deadweight, estimated earlier.

Low
1,894,978.8 + 3200 + 15834.75 = 1,914,013.55 x 0.70 = 1,339,809.485

High
16,423,166.2 + 607,040 + 444,374.64 = 17,474,580.84 x 0.70 = 12,232,206.588

Returning to our original formula:

  • Low $1,339,809.485 Total Benefit / $106,925 Total Inputs = SROI Ratio of $12.53
  • Moderate (already calculated) $6,038,337.732 / $106,925 Total Inputs = SROI Ratio of $56.47
  • High $12,232,206.588 Total Benefit / $106,925 Total Inputs = SROI Ratio of $114.40

Therefore our SROI analysis ranges from $12.53 – 114.40. Given this wide range, it may be safer to use a value of +/- 15% of our middle value, or to explore more carefully the value of the Final Outcome Reduced Likelihood of Visitors Attempting Suicide (which is currently calculated in terms of months of life, adjusted with the disability weight assigned to Suicide and Self Harm.)

Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2016), "How to Perform Social Return on Investment," retrieved on December 14, 2017 from http://dustinkmacdonald.com/perform-social-return-investment/.
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5 Unconventional Ways to Market Your Helpline

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 volunteer now 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.

Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2015), "5 Unconventional Ways to Market Your Helpline," retrieved on December 14, 2017 from http://dustinkmacdonald.com/5-unconventional-ways-to-market-your-helpline/.

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