Building the Next Generation of Crisis Lines: Learnings from our 2020 Grant Round

May 31, 2022
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Organizations using Twilio technology and funding reached 1.6 million people with critical support and resources at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic

Content warning: The following content highlights nonprofit organizations addressing issues of conflict, violence, depression, and suicide. We encourage discretion for readers impacted by these topics.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when vaccines weren’t yet available, and shelter-in-place ordinances kept people from leaving their homes, global communities experienced increased spikes in depression, hunger, abuse, financial distress, and other acute personal crises. People impacted were turning to trained specialists at 24/7 crisis lines for support and resources.

As a result, demand for these critical services increased dramatically. Digital communications via voice, SMS, webchat, video, and WhatsApp hotlines and helplines became a vital bridge to reaching people most severely affected by the pandemic with life-saving support and resources.

To support organizations serving on the frontlines looking to reach more people quickly and efficiently, as part of Twilio’s Crisis Response and Prevention Initiative, we deployed $2.9M in grant funding in October 2020 to 19 organizations building crisis lines to address increased demand during the pandemic.

We’re proud to share that our grantees reached over 1,630,000 people across 34 countries with crucial support, resources, and information.’s 2020 Crisis Lines Grant Recipients’s 2020 Crisis Lines Grant Recipients

Many of our grantees leveraged Twilio-powered solutions and technical support to:

  • Help more people in crisis by scaling hotline and helpline services using cloud technology and digital engagement
  • Maintain staffing capacity by adapting to remote work for employees and volunteers
  • Track and report on program outcomes using modern analytics tools.

Read on to learn how four grant recipients accelerated their work to reach more people.

Transforming refugee crisis lines
The Norwegian Refugee Council built on Twilio Flex to open up new channels of communication to learn how COVID-19 was affecting displaced communities. Over the course of this grant, NRC built digital community hubs—technology that enabled two-way conversations with 500,000 refugees fleeing conflict. NRC has now successfully replicated this model in 20 countries from Colombia to Myanmar and from Jordan to Tanzania.

Supporting help seekers navigate serious mental health challenges
With depression, anxiety and other mental health issues on the rise due to pressures of the pandemic, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) wanted to scale their call center to a remote-first, comprehensive call center with a national volunteer base and extended hours of coverage. Building with Twilio Flex allowed NAMI to support a 67% increase in help seekers experiencing a significant mental health challenge and reach over 72,000 people in 2021. 

Accelerating support for LGBTQ youth mental health
The Trevor Project was able to make critical infrastructure investments to enable them to scale and grow their crisis intervention services in order to support the 1.8 million LGBTQ young people they estimate could benefit from their services in the U.S. In their 2021 fiscal year, text and chat outnumbered phone calls, so by investing significantly in TrevorText and TrevorChat, they decreased wait time by 62% across digital services compared to the previous year, allowing them to serve more people at once.

Ensuring children and young people’s voices are heard
Child Helpline International supported the introduction of web chat channels used by the helplines in Burundi, Malawi and Ethiopia allowing them to reach over 48,000 children and young people with support services when it was needed most. These child helplines were crucial in preventing violence and other forms of harm against children and in providing psychosocial support to children and young people, particularly during the pandemic when requests for support surged.

Accessing COVID-19 vaccines and trusted information

Helping organizations build, modernize and scale the next generation of crisis hotlines using communications technology was an important first step to how Twilio could support the escalating needs heightened by the pandemic.

When vaccines were officially approved for use in 2021, we leveled up our commitment to helping with distribution and driving up the worldwide vaccination rate as the next phase of our COVID-19 emergency response.

In February 2021, set a goal of helping 1 billion people over two years get access to vaccines through $18M of additional funding, 1,000 hours of Twilion volunteer time, and $1M of product credits. This has already resulted in helping organizations using Twilio technology and funding support nearly 400 million people get vaccines and related information.

Our Approach to Grant Making

As we learned through’s recent State of Nonprofit Digital Engagement Report, 89% of nonprofits say digital communications are critical to achieving their organization's mission. However, many organizations have not fully realized the potential for digital communications in their programs or they don’t have the developer talent they need to adopt new communications channels or capabilities. In fact, 75% of nonprofits say their program participants would like them to provide more digital communications options.

89% of nonprofits say digital communications are critical to achieving their organization's mission

Considering both the criticality of digital communications and the communication preferences of program participants, nonprofits need to invest in the right digital communications tools and platforms in order to take their programs and impact to the next level.

Twilio is at its best as a funder when we holistically support partners with all of our resources as a technology provider and strategic partner. Technology has the power to accelerate positive social change, and we want to provide funding as the fuel for our partner’s digital transformation efforts.

With this in mind, we are doubling down on our efforts to fund technology-forward nonprofits to accelerate their access to transformative digital communications technology to scale their reach. We’ll continue to share more on our efforts soon. 

Join Impact Access Today

If you are a social impact organization, we encourage you to sign up for Impact Access today to receive kickstart credits, platform discounts, and additional support from

We can’t wait to see what you build – and the lives you change – with Twilio!