When most people retire, they think about relaxing on a beach, traveling and generally unwinding after a career of intensity. Most don’t think about starting a podcast that tells the stories of worthy non-profit businesses.
Enter Brad Shaw and Frank Blake – two Home Depot C-level retirees who are bringing attention to great charitable causes around the nation through their Crazy Good Turns podcast. Now in its second season, the podcast – named for people who do good for others, i.e. crazy good turns – is reaching beyond its Atlanta, Georgia borders to tell the worthy stories of non-profits around the US. Together, they realize that through the power of storytelling, they can help ignite change and inspire people to give back.
From C-level to non-profit
Shaw retired from the Home Depot in April 2015 after more than 10 years as the company’s vice president and chief communications officer. Upon retiring, he first helped at a soup kitchen in Atlanta, then did consulting, but he realized his time could be better spent. Blake, a former CEO of the Home Depot who left in 2014, remained friends with Shaw. The two at first wanted to start a live music venue, since both were avid music fans, but both realized the insanity of that plan. That’s when the podcast idea came to Blake.
“Frank and I had a lot of conversations and one was him asking me if I listened to podcasts much and frankly I didn’t,” said Shaw. “He gave me a list of them and we both exchanged notes on the ones we liked and didn’t. One day over coffee, he said to me, ‘When you peel away everything we did at Home Depot from a business perspective, the thing that we really did well was tell stories. We told stories to motivate half a million employees about our culture. We told stories to entice the media to help tell our story, and to investors to invest in the company.’ He said we ought to figure out a way to use storytelling for a greater good. It was actually his idea to come up with a podcast that focuses on telling these narrative backstories for non-profits.”
Shaw, a former Eagle Scout, was always interested in giving back to community. In his professional life, the Home Depot Foundation, with its corporate giving and philanthropy and volunteers, reported to him, and Blake was integral in the decisions for the Foundation, which made both of them active in the non-profit community.
When it came to formatting the show, Shaw did some deep listening and was inspired by podcasts like Serial, Esquire Classic and Criminal.
“Among all those, the common thread was the narrative tale. It wasn’t just a straight Q&A, which a lot of podcasts are. It’s work put into a voice-over script that helps tell a really interesting story. I thought if we can apply that to non-profits that are doing really great things in the world, and actually give them a product that they can use to market themselves, that’s a win for everyone,” said Shaw.
The funding came from a non-profit funded by Blake’s family foundation. It’s a 501(c)3 called Joyful Noise Productions, and their efforts are volunteer. Any money earned or granted goes into keeping the production alive.
Shaw assembled a team of freelancers to help figure out the logistics of the project, hiring someone he worked with at Home Depot, Meghan Basinger, as his project manager and Stephen Key, an Atlanta DJ, to help with audio engineering.
The team assembled a pilot in late 2015 about City of Refuge, which Shaw had helped fund activity for when he was at Home Depot, and the team was off and running.
Telling great stories one podcast at a time
In Shaw’s opinion, all non-profits should be doing great work, but not all may have a truly compelling story.
“For us, it’s ‘how good is your story?’,” he said in a voice perfectly fit for radio.
Crazy Good Turns not only seeks out good stories from non-profits around the country, they also take submissions on the website. But culling through all of them takes time, especially to find the gems that make for an engaging podcast.
To find the right ones, Shaw said, “you typically start with the founder. The founder usually is the one with the richest backstory that can help bring the work of the non-profit to life. So, whether it’s a submission from the website or a recommendation from a friend through our own networks, it usually starts with an informational interview with the founder,” he said.
Shaw will either meet the founder in person or get on the phone to get more of their upbringing and background, using the time to stress test some interesting twists and turns in their lives and founding of the non-profit, just to determine if it is a viable story to tell.
While the percentage of those that get to the talking stage are fairly small, those that get that far mostly end up being featured, and they find the process by the Crazy Good Turns team to be positive.
“When we do the interview we try to make it really clear that I’m not a journalist, this isn’t an interview, per se, it’s a conversation. We try to keep it as informal as we can and let the conversation meander. If it goes down a path that might elicit some interesting piece of color for the episode, we’ll dwell on it for a while. Our interview style puts people at ease because they realize that there aren’t gotcha questions; this is really intended to help tell their tale,” added Shaw.
Crazy Good Turns has told 13 non-profit stories so far, ranging from the first, about the Rubicon Project, a disaster relief organization led by military veterans, to the latest, about the Music Maker Relief Foundation, which preserves the music of the south by supporting the musicians who make it.
Shaw says all the stories are important to him but a few really stand out. The Tunnel to Towers episode hits home for him because he knows the two primary subjects in the interview – Todd Love and Frank Siller – from the work he did with Home Depot. The podcast tells how Siller’s brother Stephen sacrificed his life during 9/11 as a New York firefighter and about the non-profit started in his honor to raise money for military and first responders. Love, a triple amputee from serving in the US Marine Corps in Afghanistan, had a smart house built for him by the Tunnel to Towers Foundation.
“To me, it’s just such an incredible story to have this sort of warrior-philosopher express the gratitude he has, but also just the broad world view for people like Frank Siller who are doing so much to help people like him. That one in particular is one of the best stories we’ve told,” said Shaw.
Another great story is one that isn’t out yet, on Rainbow Pack, a non-profit in LA County that delivers over 14,000 backpacks filled with school supplies to kids below the poverty line.
“The amazing thing about that is that it was founded by a 10-year-old girl. The way she speaks about need and charity and change and impact is equivalent to a 40-year-old non-profit founder,” Shaw added.
The soundtrack of the non-profit story
Since Shaw and Blake’s live music venue never got off the ground, the two have made a concerted effort to make music an integral part of the Crazy Good Turns experience.
“We went about it saying we also want to use it as a vehicle for music discovery. Frank and I are music fans across a whole bunch of different genres, and the thought was, let’s use it to turn people on to new up-and-coming bands. It was really Frank driving it, saying ‘let’s not use off-the-shelf scoring, let’s figure out how to get independent bands to give us their music and we can figure out how to give them some exposure as well,’” said Shaw.
Their musical tastes are all over the board, from alternative to hip-hop, country and folk, but it’s Blake who wanted to feature new and emerging artists.
“He’ll actually recommend bands to me that my 25 year old sons would recommend,” said Shaw.
One important part on the music front is that Crazy Good Turns works with Score A Score out of Los Angeles – a “really great, young innovative shop that basically supervises, scores and mixes all of our episodes,” according to Shaw.
As with the podcast stories, they ask for submissions for music on the website, as well as seeking out new groups and artists. Once the full script is in place, Crazy Good Turns does a rough cut of the audio, sends it to Score A Score and they come back with up to 18 tracks to feature during the 15-20 minute episodes, which is whittled down to between four and seven songs.
Growing to help on a global scale
Crazy Good Turns plans on going global as it grows. Right now it is US-specific, but they want to get into other countries. The main roadblocks are funding and the logistics of recording quality audio in various corners of the world.
“The sort of long-term vision is for this to become a self-sustaining enterprise that gives back to the non-profits in a way that goes beyond storytelling. We’re small and still growing. We have a long way to go before we get to that point. But if you fast-forward to a stage where we’re on one of the platforms like Radiotopia or others and we’re able to start selling ads – we’re retaining our non-profit status but any revenue we derive from ad sales is going to go right back to the non-profits,” said Shaw.
For now, the podcast depends on donations and grants, and good word of mouth.
“When you think about that virtuous flywheel going forward everyone has a vested interest in helping tell the Crazy Good Turns, because the more listeners we get, the more revenue we drive back to the non-profits we feature,” concluded Shaw.