Why podcasting is the charity sector’s secret weapon

Amid growing funding instability, the third sector should embrace audio

I remember reading an article many years ago about a bakery in London which was pioneering the use of a clever piece of hardware which, at the push of a button by a flour-coated finger, tweeted out a 140-character message to its followers when a fresh batch of goodies was out of the oven. 

It was 2009, Twitter was still a toddler at just 2 years old and at the time, this kind of innovation was seen as an exciting example of how companies could harness this new social media to gain a competitive advantage in their market. It certainly worked well for the bakery, which was being swamped with hungry tech workers ready to get their mitts on a hot croissant on their break.

Fast forward over a decade, and innovation in social media marketing now looks very different. It feels like if a bakery - or any other small company for that matter - isn’t posting multiple beautifully-filtered photos online, along with slickly edited 30-second videos and hot-take vlog posts on a daily basis, does it even exist? Where once, a cleverly-initiated tweet was enough to garner attention, now a smorgasbord of high-frequency, high-quality content is often what is required to build a community of followers around your brand. 

I have sympathies, therefore, with small companies who are seeing the growing branded podcast trend and thinking “not another thing I need to do to keep up!” 

That being said, there are some sectors and industries that are so well-matched with what podcasting can offer, and are currently under-represented in the podcast directories, that I feel they would be well advised to at least experiment with including a podcast as part of their marketing mix… perhaps even placing it at the centre!

One such sector is the third sector - charities, not-for-profits, social enterprises and so on.

To me, a charity branded podcast is a match made in heaven. Why? Well, the raison d’être of a not-for-profit organisation is to make some kind of positive impact on the world. Of course, they can’t do this in a vacuum and therefore rely on inspiring others to get on board with their vision, whether through donations, volunteering or some other form of collaboration. So how do they do that?

Stories! The most powerful tool available to charities is the stories of the impact they are making in the world - stories of lives changed, progress made, communities transformed.

Stories can be told in a myriad of ways, but it’s hard to do them justice in a 15-second TikTok video, or a few hundred characters of social media post. In a world where our content consumption habits are trending towards shorter and shorter snippets, podcasts are one of the last bastions of long-form media, and as such offer the perfect vehicle to give a good story the space it needs to be told.

Marketing can be a bit of a dirty word in the charity world, but it’s just as essential as in the commercial sector, and the same core principles apply - for people to engage with you, they first need to know you, like you and trust you. This is one of the major draws of podcasting for organisations, and why in recent years the larger charities have begun to launch podcasts as part of their marketing strategy; it’s a great way to produce evergreen, relevant, long-form content that inspires loyalty and a deeper emotional connection with existing and new audiences. 

There are some great examples of well-known charities who are currently executing a strong podcasting strategy, like Ticker Tapes from the British Heart Foundation, Macmillan Cancer Support’s podcast Talking Cancer, or Call of the Wild by WWF, to name a few. But while the big-name charities are taking the lead, I feel the small to medium charities have not yet fully realised the potential of podcasting for growing their brand and getting their stories out in the world. 

Lack of capacity may be an issue, but one of the key benefits of audio-focused content creation is that the barriers to entry are low: you don’t need a huge budget for equipment and by using short-run series, you can dip your toes in without initially committing too much time and energy. A couple of cheap mics and a good strategy can be enough to start building a highly engaged and loyal audience around your podcasting content and brand.

Lessons can be learned from outside the sector too. The audio content doesn’t have to be explicitly linked to the work of the charity or cause for it to be effective. The likes of Waitrose’s Dish podcast, co-hosted by broadcaster Nick Grimshaw and Michelin-star chef Angela Hartnett, is a great example of a company producing compelling content that subtly builds brand awareness without ramming it down their audience’s throats.

If successful, your podcast can also start providing an additional income stream with opportunities to develop mutually beneficial corporate partnerships through sponsorship projects. Even before larger listener numbers are achieved, self-sponsored ad spots can be utilised to publicise upcoming events or ways the public can get involved in supporting the charity.

Times are tough for charities right now with funding instability, but that’s all the more reason to make sure that any time and money spent on marketing and spreading awareness is effective and actually provides a return. While podcasting may not necessarily deliver quick wins, with a strong medium to long-term strategy, for many charities it might just become their secret weapon.