Monday to Wednesday, 10am - 4pm, ET
1.855.281.5499 (toll free)

Storytelling for Nonprofits: How to Start a Podcast

Digital Storytelling

Our Storytelling for Nonprofits series continues with a look at the rapidly growing world of podcasts, a media format with a lot of potential that remains largely untapped by nonprofits.

Podcasts were first created in 2004. Since then, the genre has exploded––in 2019, there were more than 800.000 active podcasts recorded! Much of their success is due to the fact that, as a media format, podcasts are extremely popular and versatile––they lend themselves well to news coverage, comedy, investigative journalism, the creative arts and lots more. For nonprofits looking to share more of their work, podcasts can be a great way to tell their story, discuss their impact, raise awareness, and build community.

Below we take a look at what you need to create and launch your very own podcast.

Getting Started: The Tools

In the early days of podcasting, releasing a show seemed to be the domain of large media corporations or audio engineers with expensive professional equipment. These days, technology has advanced by leaps and bounds, offering plenty of options to record, edit, and release a podcast for free or at a reasonable cost.

If you have a laptop, you are already on your way to producing your own show! Having a good microphone, a headset and basic audio editing software are all great additions to your arsenal. (One of the most popular podcasting microphones is the Audio-Technica ATR2100x-USB, hovering at around $100 dollars). Need more guidance? Check out our blog series on Getting Good Audio on a Budget for more tips on recording and editing sound.

If you are new to using editing software, there are several options at your disposal. Mac users will have GarageBand already installed on their devices, which makes for a fine option. Other popular options include Adobe Audition and Alitu, which work for both Mac and PC and offer several pricing tiers. If you are interested in a platform that offers analytics and helps distribute your content to Apple Podcasts, Spotify and other major distributors, Transistor may be the tool for you. For a free option, Anchor is an all-in-one platform where you can create, distribute, and monetize your podcast from any device. Audacity is an open-source audio editor and recorder for Windows, macOS, GNU/Linux and other operating systems.

If you are not sure which tool is the right one for you, Podcast Insights’s review of popular podcast editing software is really helpful to learn more about each product and its offerings.

Getting Started: The Format

Once you have your equipment lined up and you know where you are going to record and edit content, you will have to find the right format for your podcast.

There are virtually no limitations when it comes to this genre––you can be as creative and unique as you’d like! There are, however, a number of elements that all shows will have in common, such as:

  • A unique title;
  • A unifying theme or topic;
  • A consistent posting schedule and episode length;
  • Cover art;
  • Most podcasts will also have an intro and/or outro music, though that can be optional.

Your title will not only set the personality and tone of the show, but will also be a key part of your SEO strategy. Having keywords in your podcast title, subtitle, and description will make it easier for others to find your podcast on distribution platforms like Apple Podcasts and Spotify, and will help your show be ranked and discovered by more people as you grow your episode archive.

The theme of your podcast will play a huge role in determining its success. Audiences respond well to coherence and, while there can be great variation in what you explore, having an underlying theme to shape the conversation will help your stories stand out more. This is how you will attract and grow the right following for you, showcase your expertise, and grow connections with the broader community.

Consistency is another key way to ensure the success of your podcast. Find a schedule you can commit to––then stick to it. The frequency at which you publish is up to you: it can be daily, weekly, monthly, or somewhere in between. Just make sure that the posting schedule is clearly communicated to your audience, so they know when to look out for your content.

The length of your podcasts doesn’t have to be exactly the same episode after episode, but it helps to have a baseline number in mind when editing. Some podcasts, especially daily ones, are purposefully short, ranging between 5 and 10 minutes. Others hover around the hour mark. The average podcast, however, is usually between 20-30 minutes in length––and you’d be surprised how much you can fit into that time slot! Ultimately, landing on the ideal episode length will be the result of a number of factors. As PopUp Podcasting explains, “For most podcasters it’s all about finding a balance between length, ease of production, and compelling content - like the classic ‘good, cheap, or fast - pick two’”.

Image Credit: PopUp Podcasting.

Once you have a sense of how long your episodes will be, you can think about what type of show you’ll be producing. Will be it conversational, interview-style, story-based or something else entirely? Will it be co-hosted or hosted solo? Will it have guests? Thinking about your storytelling strategy is a great way to help you come up with a general episode structure, which could look something like this:

  • Intro Music Welcome/opening words;
  • Ad Spot (if you have ads);
  • Main content: e.g., interview, story segment, etc.;
  • Closing statement, aka call to action (e.g., “Rate and review the show on iTunes!”, “Subscribe to the show”, “Check out our website”, etc);
  • Outro music

For your cover art, check out our recent posts on Adobe Spark and Canva for affordable design options. As for your music, you can find open-source and free options in our Creative Commons post. (Podcast Insight’s post on royalty-free music also has other great leads). If you prefer to go the professional route, Music Radio Creative specializes in high-quality voiceovers and podcast packages.

Get Inspired: Nonprofit Podcasts

If you are new to audio-based storytelling and would like some inspiration, get to know the podcasts of peers in the nonprofit sector. Here is a short list of popular shows:

In Canada, check out:

Further Reading

Curious to learn more about podcasts? Here is a roundup of helpful tutorials and tips to guide your explorations:

Getting Started:

  • How To Start A Podcast: A Complete Step-By-Step Tutorial (Podcast Insights)
  • Starting Your Podcast: A Guide For Students (NPR)
  • How to Podcast from Home (PopUp Podcasting)
  • Podcasting for Beginners: The Complete Guide to Getting Started With Podcasts (Buffer)

Podcast Format & Equipment: