Writing Sample – Proposal for the MacFarlane Family Foundation during my tenure as Sr. Development Writer for The Trevor Project
For internal use only please
The life-saving, life-affirming work of The Trevor Project is born of the intersection of art and cultural change. In 1998, James Lecesne, Peggy Rajski and Randy Stone, the creators of the Academy Award®-winning short film TREVOR, made a choice to use their film to spread a message of acceptance and of help. On the first night their coming-of-age story aired on television, these visionary filmmakers launched the first national crisis intervention and suicide prevention lifeline for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth. Since then, hundreds of thousands of young people in crisis have reached out to The Trevor Project’s life-saving, life-affirming resources, including the Trevor Lifeline, TrevorChat, TrevorSpace, Ask Trevor and Trevor Lifeguard Workshops. The Trevor Project is the premier organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ teens and young adults.
Describe the need your organization is addressing.
The Trevor Project respectfully requests a grant of $50,000 from The MacFarlane Foundation. This gift will fund new technology for the Trevor Lifeline call centers. These crucial upgrades will help the Trevor Lifeline to function more efficiently so that we may reach more LGBTQ young people in crisis.
The Trevor Project is dedicated to crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ young people. Suicide prevention is an especially critical issue for LGBTQ youth populations, and last year Trevor supported over 100,000 youth nationwide. Research has shown that LGB youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide as their straight peers, and questioning youth are 3 times more likely. Nearly half of young transgender people have seriously thought about taking their lives and one quarter report having made a suicide attempt. Additionally, young people who experience family rejection based on their sexual orientations face especially serious health risks. In one study, LGB young adults who reported higher levels of family rejection during adolescence were 8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide compared with peers from families that reported no or low levels of family rejection. In response to these troubling statistics, The Trevor Project must expand by increasing the efficiency of our programs in order to reach the growing number of young people who need our help.
The Trevor Lifeline is our original and most established program, designed to provide life-affirming and life-saving services to LGBTQ youth across the country. The Trevor Lifeline is a 24/7 free hotline which allows LGBTQ youth to call a safe place if they are in crisis. Each year, our Lifeline volunteers answer nearly 37,000 calls, which breaks down to roughly 100 calls a day, and that number continues to increase. To run this program, we rely on Trevor staff and hundreds of trained and vetted volunteers who function as our Lifeline counselors and answer these important calls. We also rely on technology that includes phone systems, software, and computers. This technology provides the volunteers with information and resources they require in order to help streamline the efficacy of our calls, rescues, and risk assessments.
State the connection between your project work and the mission of the MacFarlane Foundation.
The MacFarlane Foundation is dedicated to improving the quality of life for individuals. We at the Trevor Project mirror that goal. Our staff and volunteers are constantly working to improve the lives and provide opportunities for LGBTQ youth and their allies through our national programs, education, outreach, and awareness campaigns. Trevor provides life-saving and life-affirming services to LGBTQ young people who are in crisis or who need someone to talk to. Our services provide a light in the dark, full of understanding and support that many LGBTQ young people do not have access to in their lives.
For this population, who have little to no support at schools, community centers, or their own homes, we are the only confidential and free service catering directly to them. It is our ongoing goal to reach these young people so that one day they might live and thrive in a future where possibilities, opportunities, and dreams are the same for all – regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
According to its mission statement, The MacFarlane Foundation is also interested in expanding the impact of the nonprofits they choose to support. The technological upgrades we will implement with the requested grant funding from the MacFarlane Foundation will be catalytic. We will use the gift to strengthen and expand the capacity of our Lifeline call centers, which would allow the Lifeline volunteers to handle a larger call volume. This would also allow us to increase our outreach strategies and market our Lifeline service to a greater number of young people who need our help.
Potential methods include:
Utilizing our connections with YouTube celebrities such as Tyler Oakley, Davey Wavey, and Hannah Hart to promote the Lifeline to hundreds of thousands of young people. These digital celebrities have well over 500,000 followers on their YouTube channels.
- Increase promotional signage in our community outreach campaigns in middle schools and high schools across the country.
- Refocusing our public service announcements and advertising campaigns to include Lifeline promotion – the current focus of our awareness campaigns is normalizing help-seeking behavior and crisis prevention.
- Increasing our social network campaigns on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. These digital campaigns are vital as they are often the only way LGBTQ youth in rural areas learn about the Trevor Project’s services. Often these rural communities, far from our offices in Los Angeles and New York City, have a greater need for our programs. Last year 33% of our Lifeline calls came from rural areas in the south.
Please describe your constituents.
The Trevor Project’s target demographic is LGBTQ youth. LGBTQ youth were recently defined by the CDC as a population at disproportionate risk, making our work to end LGBTQ youth suicide more critical than ever. According to recent studies, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among youth as young as 10 to age 24. We at Trevor are working to change this jarring reality and save young lives. Last year we reached over 100,000 young people, and that number continues to grow.
What are your specific goals, timeline and expected outcomes?
The purpose of this grant is to obtain support for technological upgrades to the Trevor Lifeline call centers. These improvements will increase our Lifeline efficiency and allow us to answer more critical calls from LGBTQ young people who are at high-risk, or who are suicidal. With a more efficient and streamlined process, our volunteers will be able to answer a larger number of calls, and more quickly assess, identify, and triage our young callers.
Currently, the Lifeline has a rollover rate of 27% — meaning almost a third of our calls are rerouted to a third party crisis center. We anticipate the Lifeline call center upgrades will decrease that rate of roll over by 10%, so that more LGBTQ young people, who are calling the Trevor Project, will reach the Trevor Project. Additionally, with updated technology Trevor Lifeline counselors could also quickly identify and redirect non-critical calls to specific counselors, or to a new sophisticated internal queue system. This system would also help us navigate any repetitive or crank callers. Approximately 50% of our callers are what we consider non-critical. These are young people who have called to reach out and discuss LGBTQ related issues such as coming out, trouble at school, etc. While Trevor considers these concerns very important, these calls can tie up our phone lines which results in potentially missing high-risk callers who need immediate help. During the non-critical calls, which are time-limited, we may also suggest low-risk youth utilize our life-affirming and peer-supportive services such as TrevorSpace, our youth-only social network with over 85,000 members, where youth can safely talk to other young people about LGBTQ-specific topics.
Please describe your program design.
The Trevor Lifeline is currently working with a system that has not been updated in over a decade. For us to continue to run a responsive and life-saving program, our call centers need a systemic overhaul. The Trevor Project is asking for a grant to offset the cost of these necessary technology upgrades for our Trevor Lifeline call centers. This overhaul specifically includes:
- Designing and implementing an internal queue system.
- Installing new Lifeline phone systems that can utilize integrated iCarol software.
- Updating the call center computers.
Internal Queue System
By filtering callers based on their level of risk, keeping lines open for high-risk callers, and decreasing our rollover rate, we can better serve the LGBTQ youth who reach out over the Trevor Lifeline for life-affirming support. A notable percentage of our callers who speak with Trevor Lifeline counselors are not suicidal. The addition of an internal queue will allow us to redirect these low-risk or non-critical calls and prioritize high-risk callers who need immediate support. In this queue, low-risk callers will be able to wait to speak to a counselor on the non-critical line. This will allow every caller to access Trevor’s services instead of being rerouted to the third party roll-over crisis center, it will also allow Lifeline counselors to focus on the high-risk callers who may be suicidal or in need of a rescue.
Our current system is as follows: A call comes in and is answered by one of four volunteer counselors. Within five minutes, a risk assessment is completed which ranks each caller from low-risk to high-risk. If the caller is identified as suicidal, a triage counselor stays on the phone and completes the call. If the caller is low-risk, or non-critical, the caller is transferred to a second Trevor counselor to allow the triage counselor to remain open for high-risk calls.
Unfortunately, when three or four calls occur at once, regardless of their risk level, the phone lines are unavailable for a high-risk, suicidal caller. If our lines are all full and we cannot pick up a call, youth are routed after 30 seconds to the back up call center, Community Crisis Service Inc. (CCSI) in Baltimore. Callers are unaware they have been routed outside of Trevor. CCSI crisis workers are trained responders and Trevor staff ensures they receive LGBTQ cultural competency training every quarter.
Updated iCarol Technology to Integrate Call Center Phones and Computers
The upgraded iCarol software we are interested in implementing would link the LifeLine telephones to the call center computers. When upgrades to our iCarol software and phone system are complete, a caller’s history would immediately populate the computer screen as the phone rings before the counselor even picks up the phone. This integrated technology will streamline the data collection process, allowing for faster risk assessment, rerouting, or even rescue procedures.
In our current procedure, once a call is taken, counselors manually input data from the phone screen (usually containing a phone number and occasionally a name) into their call report on the LifeLine desktop computers. The volunteer then waits for the iCarol program to load any previous reports containing the phone number. If available, this data communicates the history of the caller. Throughout this process, the counselor is still on the phone with their caller which creates a delay. This procedure is not efficient, nor is it beneficial for counselors who are dealing with potentially high-risk callers. This integration would alleviate the need for manual data entry at the beginning of each call, freeing up vital time to assess the suicidal risk level of the caller.
As is the case with any free hotline, we have a segment of low-risk callers who call numerous times a day. With updated iCarol technology, Lifeline counselors would be able to track and identify these low-risk callers and transfer them to a queue designed specifically for this non-critical call. This would further free up the Trevor Lifeline for LGBTQ youth in crisis – our target population.
Lifeline Call Center Computers
Call center computer upgrades would address a security risk present for the Lifeline call center computers that run on the Microsoft XP operating platform. As of April 8, 2014 Microsoft ended its support and upgrades for Microsoft XP. This means that Lifeline computers are now unable to upgrade themselves in their current system, and at risk for viruses and other security hazards that target this type of platform.
The request for new computers will enable us to add two more call stations in the Lifeline call centers, which would facilitate two additional Lifeline volunteer counselors, per shift. These additional volunteers represent a 25% increase that would further augment the rate of which calls can be handled, as well as improving the quality and effectiveness of each call.
Additionally, the upgraded iCarol software would have improved functionality on up-to-date hardware. The call center’s outdated, current machines need to be replaced with newer models. New computers, purchased with support from the MacFarlane Foundation, would replace outdated hardware that takes an unnecessary amount of time to load critical information using iCarol. In a crisis situation that depends on a speedy response, this can be extremely detrimental.
Finally, upgrades would enhance the speed and efficacy of our current rescue processes as well. When Lifeline counselors initiate a rescue, which occurs when a young person is in need of immediate in-person help from local service providers, counselors often use locator software and coordinate with different local law enforcement agencies. Occasionally they also utilize a program that tracks a caller’s telephone number, which would function much faster with upgraded computers.
Trevor Lifeline’s current rollover rate, meaning the rate of calls sent to the external call center CCSI, is 27%. With upgrades to our technology – specifically, the coordinated internal queue, iCarol integrated phone and computer systems, and updated Lifeline computers – we would be able to decrease our roll over rate. Our goal is to decrease our rollover to 17% by July 2015. To offer some perspective, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has 165 call centers nationwide and reports that in any given quarter at least 8 states have a rollover rate of 34%. We are striving to reduce our rollover rate as much as we can so that our dedicated counselors can take calls from the callers they are trained to support: LGBTQ young people in crisis.