12 questions your helpline should be able to answer

We believe that all non-profit organisations helping people that are struggling with life have a particular duty to ensure that the quality of their services is excellent. In these times of heightened scrutiny, however, the anonymity provided by helplines makes them particularly vulnerable to criticism, justified or otherwise. Anyone can call, email or chat, and use the results in any way they want.

Below, therefore, are 12 questions that we think people responsible for running your helpline should be able to answer. We encourage Trustees, CEOs, Directors, Managers and Supervisors to ask them.

  1. Does your helpline do what it says it does, and does this actually help the people it is designed to help?
  2. Do you answer at least 80% of your calls? If not, why not, for how long has this been the case, and what are you doing about it?
  3. Do at least 80% of the people who try to contact you get a service from you? (This is different from above, and if you don’t know that, you have a problem)
  4. Is the quality of your service good enough, and how do you measure quality?
  5. How much does it cost people to contact your service? If it is not free, is this appropriate bearing in mind the people you are trying to help?
  6. Do you know how much it costs your organisation to help each person who uses your service, and is your organisation confident that this is the right way to spend your money?
  7. Do you have safeguards in place to ensure that vulnerable people contacting your service are treated appropriately?
  8. Are you using and storing people’s data in a way which is legal and secure, and that you are morally comfortable with?
  9. Is everyone involved with your service clear about practice relating to the confidentiality of the service, and is your confidentiality policy appropriate to your users and within the boundaries of the law?
  10. Are the people who handle your contacts given appropriate support in their work?
  11. Do your trustees or board know what’s going on with your service?
  12. And finally, how do you know that your answers above are correct?

If your organisation wouldn’t be able to answer some of these questions for a national newspaper, or your answers would sound flimsy on Newsnight, we may be able to help. As part of our strand of work to help non-profit organisations be future proof, we offer a 2-day helpline health-check. Alternatively, you can buy us a coffee and have one of our brains for free for an hour. Do get in touch – justin@fivewaysnp.com.