Patrick Nash: Five ways to make an impact with your helpline

The chief executive of the digital services consultancy Connect Assist says you need to be smart when raising awareness about your services

Patrick Nash
Patrick Nash

So you’ve established the need for a new helpline service, your resources are all in place and your team is ready to staff the phones. But how are you going to connect with the right audiences to ensure that your service reaches the people who really need it? These are my top tips for making an impact with your helpline – no matter how small or large your budget.

Having a limited – or potentially non-existent – marketing budget is par for the course in the third sector. But that’s not to say there aren’t many ways of promoting your service. The most important thing in launching a successful helpline is that the right people find out about its existence through a targeted communications plan. By being smart about how you raise awareness and building support networks for your cause, you can achieve a lot with a little.

Build a partnership

Partnering with an organisation or trade body is an effective way of gaining access to a wider pool of resources and extending your communications reach to targeted communities of people.

In January 2015, the National Working Group Network and Missing People charities launched a new helpline so that young people could report cases of sexual exploitation. The freephone helpline, Say Something, was launched in partnership with Dorset Police and the National Police Chiefs Council as a way of ensuring that serious cases were reported to the authorities and perpetrators were brought to justice as quickly as possible. The partnership also allowed the charities to achieve much wider publicity for their helpline and raise awareness of the serious issues surrounding child exploitation. In this case, establishing a partnership with a government body brought credibility to a brand new helpline.

Go digital

When you’ve got this far with your helpline, you’re likely to have a fairly strong idea of the demographic you need to target, whether that’s future service users themselves or others who might identify someone in need of support. It is therefore vital that you raise awareness about the need for your helpline by highlighting the issues your service will be helping to address.

There are a number of tools you can use to achieve this, depending on the nature of your helpline, including high-impact video content and social media campaigns. These methods can be implemented on a very small budget and are often extremely effective in spreading a powerful message to a wide audience.

In 2014, YoungMinds launched a campaign to raise awareness of their helpline for parents of troubled teenagers, with the goal of raising funds to maintain their support resources. They produced a very simple and effective video called Save The Parents Helpline, which featured a series of images about childhood and growing up, paired with the echoed voices of a mother becoming increasingly worried and isolated by her child’s concerning behaviour during teenage years. The video highlighted the fact that parents often feel alone in their struggle to communicate with children who are struggling with mental health and behavioural issues. The film helped to raise awareness of a group of people who are often considered a low priority when it comes to providing support, and led to a strong fundraising campaign to save the helpline. This is a good example of how very simple approaches can yield very powerful reactions.

Engage with local communities to remind them you are real people

When planning an awareness campaign for your helpline, it’s all too easy to focus on the bigger picture and how you can inform the wider public about your service. But it’s also very important to acknowledge smaller, local communities in a direct and personal way, so you can remind people that your helpline is run by real people who are there to offer support. One way of doing this is by hosting a local event or drop-in centre where potential service users can speak to someone face-to-face. After establishing its helpline, the Royal British Legion launched a number of pop-in centres across the country, so that armed forces communities in local areas could find out more about the type of services available to them. Representatives from the charity were on hand to chat to service users and direct them to the helpline for future support. By connecting with people on a personal and direct level, you can increase the opportunities for your helpline to reach a wider audience.

Connect with your audience

Through telling a story, or by encouraging others to speak out about their own experiences, you can make a greater impact with the people you hope to support through your helpline. This year, the first helpline for victims of revenge porn was launched by the South West Grid for Learning. As part of its launch activity, the charity connected with other services that also work with revenge porn victims, such as Women’s Aid and the National Stalking Helpline, so that service users were aware of the level of support they had access to. This included the founder of a support website and former victim of revenge porn, Folami Prehaye, who came forward to say how much she would have valued a helpline during her ordeal.

Own the moment

Once you’ve successfully launched your helpline, it’s important to focus on maximising any opportunities that arise to raise awareness for your cause. This could mean capitalising on an event or something that is trending on social media. The NSPCC did just that recently when it spotted an opportunity during the London tube strikes to highlight the fact that its helpline is always open for those who need it. Being aware and owning the moment can be a really effective way of reminding people that your helpline exists for a reason.

These examples show that launching a new helpline – or relaunching an existing one – is all about reaching out to the people who really matter. Be sure to spend time on a targeted communications strategy and don’t underestimate the power of partnerships and your network. Follow this advice and your helpline is more likely to be on the radar of the people who need it most.

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