Association of Mental Health Providers

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Adapting Service Delivery

Information from SCVO on adapting services to digital and remote channels

Key principles

  1. Start with user needs – spend time understanding what your service users need to do, and which digital channels they find easy to use. See this guide from Cast on the principles behind developing good digital services.
  2. Remember the need to protect privacy and support good safeguarding practice where users are sharing personal details. Youth Link Scotland have good resources on digital youth work.
  3. Be ready to test, learn and iterate. A good approach is to try small projects over a short timeframe, then ‘persevere’ with what is working and ‘pivot’ away from ideas that have not worked well. For a lot of charities, the test/learn cycle will be a day or two at this point.
  4. Think about issues around social and financial inclusion. For example, a Housing Association might need to give its tenants free WiFi, or a youth organisation might want to offer supported young people mobile data topup vouchers.

Examples of tools to deliver digital services

Here are some short examples of how voluntary sector organisations can use digital tools to help the people they work with. It doesn’t cover every situation, but has some tools to help meet common challenges. We’ve picked examples that:

  • Meet a tangible user need
  • Can be deployed within an hour, and tested within a day
  • Don’t require code or complex tech
  • Can be linked together and built upon
  • Use free (or very cheap) off-the-shelf digital tools

Handling initial enquiries

  • Maintain an up-to-date contact page – with a shift to remote working, you will need to set up a divert to mobile or cloud-based virtual switchboard.
  • Messaging channels such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp for Business. These are popular platforms and are easy to use. Both platforms can be set up to send auto-replies and do some basic tagging of questions.  Here’s a great example of how Barnardo’s used WhatsApp as a channel.
  • If you’re using WhatsApp as an inbound channel, you can use WhatsApp Web to make reading and replying to messages easier. Bear in mind that WhatsApp will display a user’s phone number to you so ensure you have the right privacy notices and user consent in place.
  • You can use social media updates like Twitter or Facebook to announce things like sudden changes to opening hours. Pinned posts that stay at the top of your feed are useful for this. But avoid pasting screenshots of text, as these are inaccessible to users with visual impairments. If you need to get an announcement out quickly, a Twitter thread or ‘view-only’ link to a Google Doc is more accessible and just as quick to post.

Booking appointments and referrals

It can be time-consuming to schedule one-to-one appointments, especially if your service is operating to variable hours.

SCVO use a tool called which allows users to book one-to-one appointments. The times listed are sychronised to a calendar and booked immediately, which means the user has confidence about what is going to happen and SCVO can pick up the call without any emailing back and forth. Another tool for this is Intercom live chat + Google Calendar.

If you are using G Suite or Microsoft Office 365, you can easily generate user-friendly flexible forms to embed on a website or send out via email or SMS. Results are automatically captured into a spreadsheet.

If you’re capturing any personal data through a form or booking system, you will need a privacy statement to explain how this will be used.

Keeping in touch with existing service users or volunteers

For one-to-many ‘broadcast’ communications, you need to be using the channels where your service users or volunteers are active. You should do a bit of work to make things easy for your users.

  • Email campaign tools such as MailChimp are great for newsletters with a mix of links and content.
  • For more immediate contact and short messages, WhatsApp Broadcast lists are easy to use. But you will need to add all the list members as WhatsApp contacts.
  • You can use a tool like TextLocal to send bulk text messages.

For live events when you can’t meet face-to-face

Delivering 1-to-1 meetings or counselling

With so many voluntary sector organisations basing their work on face-to-face contact, social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic is presenting real challenges. Two big issues are: enabling users to join a video call from their own phone or device with no extra installation, and the need for confidentiality.

  • Whereby is a simple solution, free for sessions with small groups and easy to use.
  • Zoom has a range of pricing plans and features, for example joining from a web browser or dialling in by phone.

Gathering user insight and feedback

Embedding a short, easy survey in your outbound communication, for example in an email you send after a meeting is really easy to do. Although it’s very common in online retail, charities could make much more use of this. Capturing user insight and feedback at key moments during their journey with you is much more meaningful than sending long surveys at infrequent intervals. Some easy ways to do this:

  • An automated email with a link to a Google or Microsoft Form
  • An embedded survey in a Mailchimp message
  • A WhatsApp or bulk text message with a survey link


Other useful information