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Managing a Fundraiser
Your Nonprofit's Podcast
by Karen Soloman
Use podcasting to help spread your organization's message
"Hello, everyone," says the host in a booming, confident voice. "This is Anthony Bravo and I'm coming to you live from the Smashcast studio. Today I'm going to start off by asking everyone here a simple question: Who reads the newspaper?"
According to a recent article, Bravo's co-host explains, San Francisco reported nearly three times as many allegations of police brutality as Oakland, San Diego, San Jose, and Seattle. Yet, he points out, the article also included major inconsistencies about the populations and number of police officers in these cities. Was the newspaper trying to change the numbers to support its facts?
Bravo and his co-host are students enrolled in the Level Playing Field Institute's Summer Math and Science Honors Academy (SMASH), a program designed to "encourage students from underrepresented communities to pursue studies and excel in math, technology, engineering, or science at top colleges and graduate schools." Podcasts (or "Smashcasts") like this one are an inexpensive, easy way for high school students like Bravo to contribute their voices to and connect with a larger community, expressing opinions that might not otherwise be heard.
"It means we have a bit more control of the media," said Level Playing Field Institute Director of Innovation Mini Kahlon, who organized podcasts for a pilot program of about a dozen high school students. "Now that the students are producing a radio show, they're reading the newspaper more and they're making connections with current events. One of the most important things about science is to translate what's important for an outside audience. That process is critical."
Nonprofits are discovering that podcasting — a method of distributing audio files over the Internet for playback on computers or portable audio players — is a useful, affordable way for organizations to expand their reach and further their missions.
Although, as with any type of online content, there is a learning curve, podcasts can deepen your relationship with your constituents and help attract a larger audience to your cause — particularly if you're trying to reach a younger, more tech-savvy demographic.
The most challenging part of putting together a podcast is not mastering the hardware or software, but coming up with quality content that furthers your organization's goals while giving your audience a reason to tune in regularly.
When planning a podcast for your organization, start by becoming an educated listener. Check out large podcast aggregators like iTunes or Podcast.net and search for content related to your nonprofit. Use these podcasts as a guide for creating the content and presentation style that best suits your organization and its goals.
Podcasting's potential to promote your organization and reach your constituency is limited only by your imagination. An example of this is the Nature Conservancy's Nature Stories podcast, which allows listeners around the globe to hear stories about the natural world. Nature Stories' topics run the gamut, from an Idaho couple that lived six years among a wolf pack, to a beached whale in Maine, to public fruit trees in Los Angeles.
"We want to reach out to members and new audiences in a way that makes sense to them," Jonathon Colman, Nature Conservancy's Senior Manager for Digital Marketing, said. "People can take [podcasts] with them when they're on a preserve or in their favorite spot. They can interact with us, wherever they are."
Another illustration of creative podcasting is 501c3Cast, hosted and produced by Nonprofit Software Consultant Corey Pudhorodsky. Pudhorodsky capitalizes on podcasting's low cost and vast reach to promote technology tools and programs that benefit the nonprofit sector. With 45 shows under his belt covering topics on everything from planned-giving programs to volunteer impact, Pudhorodsky notes, "So much of working with social change is telling your story, and podcasting is really compelling for that."
The Required Tools
Yet while content is king, technology remains a necessary hurdle. Luckily, it's one that is fairly easy to scale, especially for nonprofits that want to podcast simple voice recordings, such as reports, interviews, or lectures. (As opposed to the high-bandwidth requirements of an elaborate audio transmission like a DJ set.)
Basic recording tools are all that's required for clear audio, basic mixing, and editing — and most of the tools you don't already have can be obtained online for free.
To create and promote your podcast, you'll need:
Recording and Editing Your Podcast
To record your podcast, your computer will need a sound card (a standard feature on most newer machines) and either an external or an internal microphone. Don't spend a lot of money on a microphone to start; you can find decent ones at electronics stores for about $20 (though Pudhorodsky purchased a fairly high-end one for about $60). If you decide later that you'll be podcasting regularly, visit a local music store and let a salesperson help you pick out a suitable microphone (and perhaps even a sound mixer) based on the type of recording you do most often: indoor or outdoor, one-on-one or group chats, etc.
Once you've set up your hardware, you're ready to record. Below are two services that can help you do this: user-friendly Odeo.com, and the ever-popular Audacity which is best suited for more complex audio requirements.
Odeo.com makes recording podcasts astoundingly simple: just click the Record Audio button once you've logged into your account and you can record up to one hour of conversation (though you may want a trial run of just a few minutes first). In fact, you can even record over the telephone, though sound quality will suffer.
Once you've recorded your podcast, you can save it to your account by clicking the Save Recording button. Name your podcast a name (My Podcast #1, for example) fill in your organization's URL, and write a description. You can also upload an image (such as your organizations' logo).
When you've saved your recording, click on it and scroll toward the bottom of the page until you see a drop-down menu labeled Place In. Select your account name to transform your recording into a podcast. When you're through, click on My Podcasts to verify it has saved; you may also want to listen to it one last time to check for quality and content.
If your podcasting needs are more complex — for instance, if you'd like to include background music or pre-recorded content from tapes or albums — Audacity is a good choice. Audacity is by far the most popular recording and editing program available, and for good reason: open-source, cross-platform, and multilingual, this software tool is also fairly easy to use, stable, and is well-supported by its ever-growing community.
Audacity can help you:
Use Audacity's Help tab and online tutorials to learn the program and get started. (Mac users can also take advantage of Apple's free GarageBand software to do the same thing, though it's not as simple to use for sound-mixing beginners.)
Once you've recorded, edited, and saved your audio file with Audacity, download the LAME MP3 converter (Mac or Windows ). You'll need LAME because while Audacity saves files in Waveform ( aka WAV) audio format, podcasts must be MP3s to be distributed and downloaded onto your listeners' MP3 players. User-friendly LAME will assist you in the conversion process: Once you've installed the software, use Audacity to export your file as an MP3. It will ask you to locate LameLib (the MP3 encoder) on your machine, then convert the file automatically.
At this point, your podcast should be saved an MP3 file with the .mp3 extension. If that's the case, you're ready to upload your podcast to a server. This can be space on your organization's Web site (which is a fine place to launch your podcasts), or on a paid hosting site like LybSyn.com. Once you've posted your podcast on a server, download the .mp3 file and listen to it to make sure you like the way it sounds — before you start promoting it.
Delivering Your Podcast Via RSS
To deliver your MP3 files to the public, you will need to use an RSS feed. While there are many ways to do this, Odeo is the easiest. From your Odeo account page, look for the box that reads, "Want to Be A Podcaster?", and click Odeo Studio. Click "Link to Audio," create a title for your file, and enter the link where your .mp3 file is housed (this will likely be your local hard drive). You can the link anything you'd like, but it should look something like:
(Don't forget to include the http:// at the top of the URL.)
If you created your recording using Audacity, you will need to follow the same steps outlined above for adding files to Odeo: Saved your MP3 file to your account, click on it, and select your account name from the drop-down menu labeled Place In. Click on My Podcasts to verify it has saved.
Once your podcast has been saved on Odeo, it should be listed on the green sidebar under My Podcasts. Click that and you should see an RSS URL, which will take you to a page of text code that looks similar to an HTML document. Copy and save this page's URL, which will serve as the link to your RSS feed, telling podcast aggregators like iTunes where to go to find your recordings and how to deliver them so that you can publicize your podcast on other Web sites.
Note that, once you have added your first podcast, this RSS feed will update automatically when you add subsequent podcasts, allowing listeners to enjoy to any and all of the podcasts you have listed in your Odeo account.
If You Podcast, They Will Listen (As Long as You Promote)
Many podcast aggregators — including iTunes, Podcast.net, and PodcastAlley - will list your podcasts for free. Just Google the word "podcast" and hundreds of aggregators will show up, roughly in order of their popularity.
Pudhorodsky advises that listeners create several shows before they begin to heavily promote their work to a wider audience. "The rule of thumb is that usually one doesn't share the first five shows they produce. I didn't feel really comfortable until ten or fifteen shows into it." Podcasting, after all, is a form of entertainment, and even an art; it can take a few tries before you find your organization's voice and are ready to share your work.
When you are ready to promote, consider narrowcasting, or finding places that already have an audience similar to yours, advises the Nature Conservancy's Colman. "It took some digging, but we tried to find groups that already had in place listeners interested in nature, science, storytelling, and [conservation]." This meant promoting the podcast heavily on Nature Conservancy's own Web site, as well as on about 50 other aggregator and partner sites.
At the same time, don't make your focus too narrow. Large media empires such as Yahoo and AOL also list podcasts and can be a great way to promote your podcast to the masses. Use as many tags as you can to describe the content of your show; the more specific they are, the better your chances of honing in on the group you wish to target. Be sure to promote your podcast through your organization, too — whether through your Web site, your newsletter, or however else you reach out to existing and potential members.
Good old viral marketing is still one of the most effective, affordable tools you can use to publicize your podcast and expand your community. Attend conferences and online events, listen to other organizations' podcasts, and cross promote.
Remember, in podcasting, it's what you say, how you say it — and where you promote it — that will help your organization's voice be heard.
About the Author:
Karen Solomon is a writer in San Francisco.
Copyright © 2006 TechSoup and used with permission. This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.
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