Vicki Cardwell: Podcasts are booming, so is the sector catching on?

2019 could be the year of the charity podcast

Vicki Cardwell
Vicki Cardwell

About 6.4 million of us in the UK listen to podcasts. That’s almost double the 3.8 million in 2016, and the numbers continue to inch up.* For good reason, 2018 has been called the year of the podcast boom.

The sector has been quick to engage with and use social media, but fewer are using podcasts to convey their messages. But there is potential for this medium to reach new audiences and to connect with existing supporters in different ways.

For charities that work in policy and research, such as Revolving Doors, the value is perhaps clearer to see. We’ve recently launched our own podcast, In Other Words, with a pilot series of three episodes looking at poverty, trauma and service responses to people in the revolving door of crisis and crime. Our aim is to develop the debate on criminal justice in the sector by bringing lived experience, academics and practitioners into the conversation. This required a medium that could cover complex issues in an accessible format. We needed to bring differing perspectives into one discussion – in our case, through the editing process, a process much harder to replicate in a report.

Using audio has enabled people with lived experience to be at the heart of the conversation rather than quoted in reports, which can remove the real person’s voice. The human touch, from all the contributors, can be powerful, bringing real warmth and humour. But unlike a conference a podcast offers something tangible to which to return. Podcasts differ to extremes in length, topic and style, but a key feature is storytelling, lending the medium to charities that work across the full spectrum of issues.

We also set out to reach more people than traditional reports might engage. As a charity aiming to reach policy-makers, service providers and commissioners, we know the people we connect with have reports stacking up in their "to-read" pile and the near impossible task of keeping up with the latest policy ideas. However, they might find time to engage with a thought-provoking piece on their commute.

We are noticing an uptick in the number of great charity podcasts out there. The Mental Health Foundation regularly publishes podcasts related to its mission, helping people with mindfulness and thinking about issues such as the relationship between sleep or nutrition and wellbeing. The RSA has an interesting podcast, with interviews and discussion covering a range of issues, including climate change, design and inequality. This month, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation launches its own series focusing on people with lived experience of poverty.

At Revolving Doors, we will assess our impact in terms of reach and response. Three weeks into the podcast we have had more than 400 listens on the Soundcloud platform. One response from a charity chief executive on Twitter encapsulated what we were aiming for: "This is stuff I'm around every day, and yet the collection of thoughts and ideas and the accessibility of it all right there in my ears just really made it hit home."

If it's successful, we’ll extend the series and make it part of our core work. We are keen to hear what others think and to see what we as a sector can do next. It might be that 2019 turns out to be the year of the charity podcast.

Vicki Cardwell (@vickihcardwell) is deputy chief executive of Revolving Doors Agency

* https://www.rajar.co.uk/docs/news/MIDAS_Summer_2018.pdf

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