Published: 27 September 2016

The podcast comeback: three charities tapping into the trend

With the worldwide success of shows such as Serial, podcasts are seeing a resurgence. RAJAR found 3.7 million adults listen to them in its autumn 2015 research, with over 50% listening on a smartphone. 

A podcast is a downloadable audio file, usually available as a series, which users can subscribe to for automatic updates. The term, coined in 2004, is a mash up of 'iPod' and 'broadcast'.

While over 50% of UK audience only watch 25% or less of a video on Facebook, podcasts are captivating audiences, sometimes for over an hour at a time. What makes them compelling? A combination of powerful storytelling, the intimacy of radio and the convenience of consuming content on the go. Here are three organisations successfully tapping into the trend.  

1. Completely Optional Knowledge by Greenpeace USA 

–  exploring curious questions about the world

Produced by JP Davidson and hosted by Andrew Norton, listeners are invited to suggest questions in each episode and expert guests join to answer them. Past questions have included “What does the sun sound like?”, “What is wind?” and “Are there lazy ants?” 

Producer JP Davidson says the show is broadening Greenpeace’s reach: 

Putting entertainment and curiosity first has helped build a significant – and growing – audience that goes beyond Greenpeace's existing base of supporters. The hope is that submitting a question or subscribing is a fun, easy way to start your relationship with the organisation – one that might deepen over time.

2. In Their Own Words by Amnesty International

–  celebrities lending their voice to prisoners of conscience 

Amnesty has a long tradition of sharing the stories of the people it champions to bring them closer to supporters. Podcasting feels like a natural progression. This episode featuring Chelsea Manning’s extraordinary story is really engaging and personal. 

Sam Strudwick, Amnesty's head of digital, communications, planning and design told Third Sector in March 2016: 

… There seems to be a resurgence in content with depth – whether it’s long-form or serialised content – and we repeatedly find that people browsing our website want content that gives the ‘full picture’ and detail on an issue.

It’s a big ask of an audience to listen to a half-hour audio show, but the stories are so compelling that we hope they’ll engage an audience that already listens to podcasts to connect with Amnesty.

3. Relationship Realities by Adfam and OnePlusOne

– stories of support from families affected by drugs and alcohol

Adfam and OnePlusOne created this audio series as a way to support those dealing with a loved one’s substance use. The short stories hear from families sharing their experience, thoughts and what worked for them. As David Ader, Adfam’s policy and communications officer, puts it:

The resulting stories are extraordinarily powerful, honest and emotional… a way of bottling the incredible power of personal storytelling and testimony you get at peer support groups held on weekday evenings in cafés and church halls across the country. We just needed to make it accessible anytime, anywhere.

One interesting difference with this project was how it was distributed. Claremont Communications worked with the charities to send out mp3s loaded with the audio files, allowing listeners to access them discreetly at their own pace rather than publish in a series. Find out more about the project

Tips for getting started

Listen – a lot
Find out what’s out there and what people are listening to on the Apple Podcasts Top Charts list. If you’re hoping to enrich your supporter experience, ask them if they’d like a podcast from you. 

Get a feel for recording and editing with the devices you have but get the right equipment if you want to invest in it. There are lots of free and paid for editing programmes to create podcasts. Read podcaster Helen Zaltzman’s checklist for creating a successful podcast

Bring in external talent if needed
Think about your host – are they engaging and able to captivate your audience? Do you have the right people in house to mix your final product?

Make it accessible
Think about where you’re hosting it and if it can be easily accessed or downloaded. Create a blog for your podcast and a RSS podcast feed to allow users to subscribe to it.  

Expect challenges
Unpredictability seems to be a common challenge for podcasters. This is one of the biggest hurdles for Optional Knowledge, says Andrew:

When we first started making the show, before we even launched it was difficult finding people to ask the questions. I think sometimes when people ask questions to smart people they want to sound smart as well – we needed questions where there was no ego, just pure curiosity.

Got any tips or recommended podcasts? Share them in the comments below. 

Susheila Juggapah, digital content manager, CharityComms

Sushi joined CharityComms in September 2015 having previously worked at Concern Worldwide (UK). She manages CharityComms online communities and digital content. Sushi has worked with various charities and non-profits for the past five years, specialising in digital communications and online campaigning.