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600,000 Podcast Listeners Fuel this Non-Profit: Here’s How They Did It

Creator Profiles are a new avenue for creators to highlight learnings and accomplishments in the Patreon creator community. Here, you’ll read stories and business insights in the words of the creators themselves.

Today’s article features Sol Hanna of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia. It provides a glimpse into what it’s like to run a Patreon page for a non-profit organization.

Creator Stats at a Glance
Category Spirituality Commitment Group – part-time
Project Start Date 2001 Patreon Start Date April 2017
Revenue on Patreon ~$3000/mo Other Revenue N/A
# Patrons at Launch 19 # Patrons Now 226
Audience at Launch ~460,000 dls/views per month Audience Now ~600,000 dls/views per month
Major Milestone Tripled podcast traffic in past year.

Who We Are & What We Do

My name is Sol Hanna and I help to coordinate our online team of volunteers at the Buddhist Society of Western Australia. I’ve served on the BSWA Committee 12 years, including some time as president. I’m a teacher as my day job. We have about a dozen volunteers at any one time who are working to produce and share teachings online.

The Buddhist Society of Western Australia (BSWA) has a YouTube channel, podcast and a website that makes up its online presence, along with social media. We have a team of around a dozen volunteers who work part-time on this project. We have a small team that does the recordings of teachings, and another that posts and curates material online. We also have a skilled sysadmin volunteer working part-time to support our online platforms. It’s also worth pointing out that our teachers (monks and nuns) are volunteers and receive no payment for their teachings, and they’re not even allowed to handle money.

In short, the people who keep things going are…1. The teachers, led by our spiritual director and lead teacher Ajahn Brahm2. Our audio-visual team that record and edit all teachings3. Our online team that uploads, posts and shares teachings on various platforms.4. A great many other volunteers at the BSWA including our Committee and others who keep the organisation running.

Ajahn Brahm, the BSWA’s spiritual director.

I volunteer out of a sense of gratitude for the benefit that the teachings have brought to my life and an urge to share with others. Whilst I and the other volunteers receive no payment, we do get to see our audience constantly growing and read many appreciative comments from our audience. When I hear from someone who has been suffering from depression, or a painful relationship breakup, or a potentially fatal illness, or any other form of trouble or distress in life, and they report of how the teachings have helped them relate to their problems with greater patience, kindness, wisdom, and peace, that’s when I know that the work we do is a very real benefit to people. It’s like medicine for the mind, and we give it away for free for the benefit of anyone who wants to give it a go.

It’s a big project based around giving – from the teachers, to the online volunteers, to the donors. When someone hears one of the teachings on our channels everything about it from beginning to end has been given. It’s a wonderful project to be involved in whether as a volunteer or donor, because we get to bring about so much happiness and peace in other people’s lives through our actions. I find just thinking about the generosity involved in this project quite inspiring.

A very common comment we receive from our audience is that there is no Buddhist centres or temple or monastery in the country or nearby to where they live, so the BSWA becomes the ‘online temple’ where they can learn about meditation and how to live a happy, peaceful life.

Marketing & Revenue Strategies

On Our Target Audience

Our audience is spread far and wide – from over 150 countries during the past year. They are mostly from English-speaking countries (the language the teachings are in) with about 30% of traffic coming from the United States followed by Australia and the UK which both have a little over 10% each. Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, and Germany are also major sources of audience traffic.

Other demographic factors of the audience are equally diverse, from age to ethnic and cultural background. There is no ‘typical’ listener of the teachings. Most of the audience would not identify as ‘Buddhist’ and never will. They just value wise teachings that they can try out for themselves and are open-minded about where that wisdom can come from.

How We Built Our Audience

We already had a substantial online audience prior to using Patreon. We have over 100,000 YouTube subscribers and countless (because it’s syndicated) podcast followers. It’s worth noting our podcast traffic has tripled in the past year. Getting onto different platforms, syndicating our podcast via iTunes and a variety of other avenues, and posting regularly have all contributed to building up our audience over time.

Below is a table of media downloads on our YouTube and Podbean channels since 2015. It’s a key metric that I track over time for the sake of comparability.

We post about 4 to 6 videos (sometimes more) new teachings on our YouTube channel each week. We post daily on our podcast. People are looking for teachings on meditation and spiritual development that are practical and accessible. We make the teachings regular and easy to access on the platform and format that suits them. So when a Friday night talk is video recorded, it goes on YouTube first, then onto the podcast. We have teachings for beginners like Friday night dharma talks and guided meditation, but we also produce content for experienced practitioners wanting to take their understanding deeper, like meditation retreat teachings and lessons on the original teachings of the Buddha (sutta study).

A photo showing the crowds attending a Friday night Dhammaloka.

But most of all, we have high quality teachings from monastics who live offline and are focused on spiritual practice as they live and practice quietly in the forest. If we didn’t have quality teachings to begin with, I don’t think the BSWA’s online platforms would be so popular. The online platforms only make it easy for people around the world to access the teachings. It’s the quality of teachings from Ajahn Brahm and the other monks and nuns that resonates with people everywhere and draws an ever increasing audience in.

The benefit of using Patreon is that it has given our online followers an easy way to support our work. We have been able to upgrade some of our equipment like our video cameras which have resulted in much better quality video. And we now plan to do more. We are currently moving into the realm of translating teachings into languages other than English, and as our patronage grows, so too does our potential to share teachings with a wider audience.

Patreon Revenue & Reward Strategy

Our launch on Patreon was quiet. I set up Patreon and then linked to it on all our other platforms. When we post a new talk, we post a link to Patreon at the bottom of the description. We’ve been consistently building patronage via regular posting of teachings (with links to Patreon).

I believe the desire to give and support the work of the BSWA already existed. We just needed an easy way for these people to donate regularly. That’s the gap that Patreon filled. There are always things I would like to improve about what the BSWA does online, but we’ve come a long way and I feel there is much to be glad about too.

We are completely dependent upon donations to run our two monasteries, city centre, as well as our online platforms. The BSWA does raise funds, but most of this goes to our monasteries, city centre, and retreat centre. That’s a positive, but Patreon is allowing us to fund our online activities independently.

Buddist monks from the Buddhist Society of Western Australia.

The great benefit for the BSWA in using Patreon is that is has allowed an easy way for our online audience, which is dispersed around the world, to support our work of making the teachings available for free out of gratitude. Patreon makes this process relatively easy for our generous donors and provides the BSWA with a source of income from a group of people who we were supporting with teachings but not receiving much financial support from previously (because we had not provided them at that stage with an easy way to support us on an on-going basis).

Our fixed costs for our online platforms (including running servers, fast internet for live streaming, and online services) are now covered by Patreon. We are hoping to raise more so we can cover capital costs (e.g. computers, cameras, mics) and delve into new ways of serving our audience. I’d like to provide better quality productions of teachings to beginners in the future, and this will cost money to produce.

In May 2017 we raised $424 on Patreon and in April 2018 we raised $2936. Our fixed costs and capital costs over the course of the year are quite substantial. We’re aiming to raise $5000 per month so that we can support the online sharing of teachings for free entirely from donations from our online audience.

As for reward strategy, our teachings are all given for free as a matter of principle. The only reward for our patrons is good karma. But that’s a pretty good reward, in my opinion. It seems that good karma as a reward is working because our patronage continues to grow strongly, as you can see in the chart below.

Personal Development

The author, Sol Hanna, exploring gardens with his son.

With growing popularity comes growing demands. I try to do a little bit every day if I can, and do ‘catch up’ days (when they are available) for bigger projects.

It has taken tremendous persistence to keep working on this project even when I’m tired and busy, especially during times when there is a lack of support for the next step that could benefit others through expanding our platforms or services.

I never felt I got our set up 100% right, but I never wait around to get things perfect, I just take the next step and learn as I go. It’s working out so far. And I don’t think I could say I would have set things up differently, because the ways things were done in the past were right at the time. But the internet is a rapidly changing environment and what works at one time won’t work for very long. Constant adaptation is required.

I am always looking around online for new ideas. Even though the BSWA is sharing spiritual teachings online, I observe how other platforms do things, like using social media, or podcasting, etc. I frequently get ideas from multiple sources, but it’s a synthesis of things that I observe. I don’t follow specific blogs or channels on how to create content. Maybe I should, but I rarely have time.

The next big internet upheaval looks to me to be two counter-trends:1. The increasing centralisation of the internet upon the major platforms (like Google/YouTube; Facebook/Snapchat; iPhone/iTunes); versus2. A new decentralising trend in the form of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology.

I think the next big challenge for Patreon will be to adapt by accepting cryptocurrency payments and working out how to survive and thrive in a decentralised blockchain world.

Want to Learn More About the Buddhist Society of Western Australia?

You can visit these links to learn more about BSWA.

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