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Switching from donations to memberships: The Weltwach podcast goes community-funded

At first, travel writer Erik Lorenz was driven primarily by his curiosity.  He wanted to get into conversations with exciting people like National Geographic photographers, adventure-seekers and authors, so he started his podcast Weltwach (Opens in a new window).  The overwhelming response from his listeners eventually encouraged him to invest even more time and energy into the project. In this guest article for Steady, he tells us how and why he started a membership program.

By Erik Lorenz. Translated by Vanessa Ellingham. 

Erik Lorenz on Taglang La in India in 2016. 📸 Marcus Fornell

I remember one of the early Weltwach episodes very well — it was a conversation with survival expert and two-time Federal Cross of Merit winner Rüdiger Nehberg. He is now in his  mid-80s [Editor’s note: Nehberg passed away shortly after this article was written, in April 2020] and, in the episode, he talks about a long life full of adventure, which is more colourful than any Karl May novel.  Nehberg crossed the Atlantic alone three times: once on a self-made raft, once on a pedal boat and once on a fir tree! In the podcast he talks about the many years he lived with the Yanomami people in the  Brazilian jungle and fought for their rights.

But he also talks about his fight against the custom of female genital mutilation within certain Muslim societies. At two and a half hours, it  is the longest episode in the history of Weltwach —  but also one of the most entertaining and intense, because it is so adventurous, funny, sad and curious. Because it makes us feel and projects images in front of our inner eye. For me, it shows why podcasts are such a wonderful format for telling personal, unfiltered stories.

To this day I receive emails from people who have been moved, inspired,  thrilled and motivated by Nehberg’s remarks to break out on a little adventure of their own.

For example, a 56-year-old woman wrote to me that she has been single for three years and is wrestling with the question of whether she should venture out next summer on a trip to a country where “German is not spoken” for the first time: “Before the trip, I know I won’t be able to sleep for weeks. But I know that if I dare, it will give me strength and  self-confidence for years to come.” The Nehberg episode gave her the last bit of courage she needed to make the decision.

Weltwach: Adventure. Travel. Life.

Numerous fascinating guests in more than 100 episodes

In Weltwach I accompany border crossers and travellers on their forays and share these insights into faraway places and fascinating cultures with my listeners.

Previous guests include leading adventurers like Reinhold Messner and Arved  Fuchs, bestselling authors like Andreas Altmann and Christine Thürmer,  as well as photographers like Michael Martin and six-time World Press  Award winner Harald Schmitt. In more than 120 episodes so far, I talk to them about their expeditions, their lives and their views of the world.

Listeners often asked how they could support Weltwach

It’s a lot of fun. But at the same time, I work a lot and invest a lot of my own time. And the costs keep going up. Aside from hosting costs,  there’s investing in equipment and travel costs, because I try to hold the talks in person as often as possible.

I needed to find a way to cover my costs to be able to continue Weltwach in the long-term. But I also wanted to expand the project and take a  financial risk here and there, for example with live shows.

The decision to offer memberships was ultimately the result of the many responses I received to each new episode: emotional emails that gave me goosebumps and listeners asking me how they could support Weltwach.

Members get access to bonus episodes, discounts and an ad-free podcast

First  I placed a PayPal donation button on my website, and people used it to an encouraging degree. Through the donations I could see that there were people who wanted to support me. That was very nice to see.

While the online magazine (Opens in a new window) and the podcast continued to develop, the desire grew in me to also deepen my relationship with my supporters and fans. That would mean something other than the one-way street of donations. That’s how Steady (Opens in a new window) came into play, because the platform offers excellent possibilities for doing exactly that.

With  Steady, I can not only get financial support, but also offer memberships, giving something to my members in return for their support. Across different membership plans I offer the “Weltwach Supporters Club (Opens in a new window)”  ad-free versions of the podcast, bonus episodes, discounts for the shop or the right of first access to tickets to live shows. In addition to the resulting income, I’m able to have direct contact with my biggest fans.

How to gain members: Mention it in your podcast repeatedly, keep your community informed and be transparent about your business

In order to attract members, I refer to the membership program repeatedly in the podcast and also explain what I need the money for. I also have the various membership plans on my website and send out emails to explain them. So far, I’ve already been able to recruit about 90  members.

So  I am still very much at the beginning of my Steady journey. But it’s not of utmost importance to me to convince as many listeners as possible to sign up for memberships. Instead, I want to take the opportunity to give something back to those listeners who want to support me anyway.  For me, this is the perfect complement to monetization through advertising partners.

I  am extremely grateful for the support of my members, because I know how high the barrier is today for people to consider paying money for online content. This support not only allows me to cover a large portion of my running costs, but also invest in new formats, better equipment and special promotions — and develop Weltwach into one of the places to go when it comes to powerful stories from around the world, about the world.

On Steady anyone can become a member of Weltwach:

Topic Success Stories