Service users need you more than ever – And not just when it’s convenient

An NCVO survey of charity leaders from earlier this year shows that most have a negative outlook on the economic landscape[1]. Given that the last set of figures from Charity Market Monitor[2] prove what we all knew; that charity income has been sliding year on year it’s clear that your concerns have foundation. These headlines from national newspapers last week only reinforce that picture:

  • Daily Mail – Squeezed UK households are struggling to cope with mortgage payments
  • The Guardian – Some supermarkets are driving milk farmers to bankruptcy
  • The Independent – Forget payday loans, the one-year debts are the ones to fear
  • The Independent – First timers forced to pay twice as much for mortgages
  • Daily Mirror – George Osborne under pressure as experts predict recession number three

We all know that not just the sector but everybody in the wider economy is facing challenges as a result of this climate. This means that your service users and the population at large need you more than ever.

More people are facing more challenging circumstances than in what constitutes living memory for most of us. As a result charities are having to do more with less and not just between 9am and 5pm. With lots of us concerned about our job security, office hours don’t always feel like a practical time to seek help and support, yet people end up lying awake at night due to the issues they face and often have nowhere to turn until morning when the cycle begins anew.

A lot of the charities I speak to initially perceive that the cost implications of extending hours of service would be prohibitive.  Even those charities who already help outside office hours are concerned that they may have to stop doing so in light of reduced funding.

Despite all of this it really isn’t all doom and gloom, according to the same NCVO survey charity leaders are overall quite positive in their outlook as far as dealing with the situation[3]. The truth is that there are several ways to reach more people over longer service hours while containing costs, and in many cases actually reducing the cost per service use. Here are just a couple of the things that you can do to enable you to deliver services outside office hours without breaking the bank and even to complement what you do during core service hours:

  1. Provide access to your services online – Let service user search for information and advice on your website as a first step and offer a way to get in contact with you through an online channel. This doesn’t necessarily have to be staffed out of hours as long as you set expectation as to when the service user will receive a response;
  2. Try to do this in a way that fits with your service delivery systems – Make sure you can case-manage service use no matter when or what channel it comes through i.e. phone, on-line or social media etc;
  3. Outsource – Outsourcing can offer a way to continue delivering your service after office hours at a rate that it’s often difficult or impossible to deliver at in-house. Also many people who would previously have called you between  9am – 5pm did so because it was the only choice available to them. If your service can be accessed during the evening then it may also take a weight off your day-time services. Remember that outsourcing doesn’t mean abdicating, a strong partnership with your outsourced provider will ensure that your service still feels like it’s being delivered directly by your charity.

Connect Assist supports charities to do this twenty-four hours a day 365 days of the year and we love helping charities help more people so please feel free to get in contact with us if you’d like to learn more.

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Case Study

National Council For Voluntary Organisations ( NCVO )

In a period of significant reduction in grant income NCVO wished to extend helpline opening hours, providing increased service delivery channels at decreased costs.

Services used: Multi-channel Helplines Digital Service Delivery

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