Are charities making the most of podcasts?

The breadth and versatility of podcasting makes it a valuable medium for the third sector

I am a podcast addict. Every morning I open the podcast app on my phone and check for new episodes. My obsession knows no bounds and I am following more podcasts than ever before. 

I’m not alone. The UK podcast audience is growing, reaching an estimated 21.2 million listeners in 2022, projected to increase to over 28 million listeners by 2026 - and charities are starting to take notice. A recent survey from the fundraising platform Enthuse found that 30% of charities were using podcasts for digital fundraising, and a further 26% were trialling them.

The RNLI recently launched its 200 Voices podcast ahead of its 200th anniversary in March 2024, and has achieved 49,000 downloads to date. The podcast shares stories that reflect the RNLI’s history, featuring survivors, volunteers, lifeguards and celebrity supporters such as the actor Timothy Spall. It aims to demonstrate the breadth of the RNLI’s achievements and how it has saved and changed lives.

Rory Stamp, RNLI’s strategic content manager, says that the intimacy of the podcast experience offers “someone’s voice: their accent, emotional emphasis and choice of words goes straight into your ears – something that a web or print article can’t always achieve”. 

Stamp also highlights the breadth and versatility of podcasts, which include everything from “multi-voice documentaries about crime and very personal journeys through difficult times, through to witty banter about sport and serious interviews about current affairs”. 

Whatever your cause, podcasts can tell the story of what you do and why it matters. Cats Protection launched a new podcast, Cat’s Got Your Tongue, in November. The show features celebrities such as comedian Russell Kane talking about their positive experiences of cat ownership and also offers expert advice about cat welfare and behaviour.

Alice Hammond, Cats Protection’s celebrity and influencer relationship manager, explains that podcasts offer benefits for charities, including “the soft influence of weaving messaging into entertaining, authentic editorial content, as well as having a new vehicle to engage our celebrity supporters and creating relevant new content for our own channels”.

And podcasting is not just the preserve of large charities. Pause, the charity that supports women who have experienced or are at risk of children being removed from their care, started its In a Mother’s Mind podcast to highlight the mental health impact on its beneficiaries. The podcast was the charity’s first co-produced creative project. 

“Women who work with Pause are so used to being extensively questioned by professionals,” explains Pause’s communications officer Fi Gilligan. “A main goal of our podcast was to disrupt this usual dynamic. Rather than being interviewed, it is the women who ask the questions.” 

Podcasts can be a powerful way to centre lived experience, and you could reinforce this by providing a transcript of the recordings to make them accessible. They also offer a light-touch way to engage your audience. The Directory of Social Change’s Charity Questions podcast answers any question that listeners submit, covering anything from fundraising to policy to queries about chief executive Debra Allcock Tyler’s dog, Arthur. 

José Blázquez, DSC’s marketing and product development manager, explains that the main aim is to “bring in guests who are experts in different areas of our sector and can provide high-quality answers to our listeners’ questions clearly and engagingly”.

This kind of informal engagement can be a good way to build a community around your brand; as Roger Gowdy previously noted, podcasting can be an excellent (and cost-effective) tool for reaching new and existing audiences through owned media, and there are many charity podcasts to explore

However, what surprised me when researching this piece was how few charities seem to be advertising on other podcasts. As a comparatively cheap media channel in relation to TV or out-of-home, with a rich library of cause-focused content to advertise alongside, podcasting would seem to be an ideal fit for third-sector organisations seeking to broaden their outreach efforts.

I also rarely hear charity leaders as guests on mainstream podcasts outside the sector. Why don’t we see more charity leaders on Diary of a CEO, or The News Agents, both of which have large audiences? Offering key spokespeople as guests for these podcasts could help get charities - and their messages - in front of a much wider pool of people.

Podcasts can be a great tool for influencing and campaigning, and while creating your own podcast is a useful tactic, charities should remember that appearing on or alongside existing shows (whether as a guest or as an advertiser) could help your charity reach a whole new audience.