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Google Ad Grants: How to Make Them Work for Your Nonprofit


When it comes to improving your nonprofit’s digital efforts, there are plenty of great tools that can strengthen your web presence. For instance, Mightycause provides everything you need to create awesome team and peer-to-peer campaigns or set up a year-round donation page. Then, email marketing software can help you engage your constituents on an individualized level. And by now, you may have also heard about all the good that the Google Ad Grants program can do for your outreach.

Whether you work for a small charity or a large international nonprofit, the Google Ad Grants program can help you amplify your most important pages and connect with prospects searching keywords related to your mission. Seems like a no-brainer, right?

Not so fast! The program is more useful for some organizations than it is for others. Google Ad Grants can help nonprofits professionalize their marketing, but they can also be time-consuming and cumbersome to manage. 

If you’re wondering if the Google Ad Grant is a good fit for your organization, you’ve come to the right place! The fundraising experts here at Mightycause have pulled together some important points you’ll need to consider before applying. Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • The Basics of Google Ad Grants
  • 7 Questions to Ask Before Applying for the Google Ad Grant
  • What To Do if You’re Not Ready for the Google Ad Grant Yet

By the end of this article, we’re confident that you’ll be able to determine if the program will fit into your nonprofit’s current priorities. If not, we’ll also share actionable next steps that will help you get there. Let’s get started!

The Basics of Google Ad Grants

Before we can get into whether Google Grants is right for your nonprofit, we’ll need to go over some basic information about Google Ads. That way, you can quickly determine whether it seems like a good choice for your organization.

Google Ads 101

Formerly known as Google AdWords, Google Ads is a paid search engine marketing (SEM) platform. Companies create ads that link to pages on their websites and bid on keywords related to their business. Other companies (often competitors) bid on those same keywords. From here, Google uses a ranking system called Ad Rank to determine which ads are shown to users and in what order.

Ad Rank takes several factors into account, including:

  • Your bid amount
  • The quality of your ad
  • The competitiveness of the keyword
  • Your Ad Rank threshold, which is also determined by several different factors
  • The context of the person’s search (e.g. location, device, and time of search)
  • Your use of ad extensions and other ad formats

When a user searches a keyword, their results will have ads mixed in with organic (or unpaid) search results. For instance, this is what it looks like when I Google “bow ties”:

Notice that the paid ads are labeled, so users will clearly understand that particular results are advertisements. You can see that Google has placed the ads on the search engine results page (SERP) based on Ad Rank. Google knows a lot about me, including the topics I search, where I’m located, and which pages I click. Other users might see different ads in a different order when they search the same term.

When I click on one of the ads, the company will be charged. Google Ads is pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, so you’re not charged unless someone clicks on your ad. How much you pay depends on your bid, what others have bid, your rank, and the quality of your ad.

If this sounds a little complicated, that’s because it totally is! Google Ads is one of the most complex marketing tools available. And this is only a quick overview of how paid search campaigns work.

Not to mention, Google Ads also allows companies to create display network campaigns that show their ad all over the Google Display Network, which includes over 35 million websites and apps. Plus, it has powerful targeting tools that help ads reach the right users and use their marketing budget most effectively.

Enough about paid Google Ads, though. Let’s learn a little more about Google Ad Grants.

What is a Google Ad Grant?

Google created the Google Ad Grant to empower nonprofits to increase their visibility for valuable keywords related to their missions. It provides organizations with free (but slightly limited) access to Google Ads.

While Google implements eligibility requirements that nonprofits must meet, pretty much any organization with a valid charity status and promotable web content is eligible to apply for the Google Ad Grant. When you’re approved, your nonprofit will receive $10,000 in in-kind advertising each month. 

The ultimate goal of the program is to connect nonprofits with people searching for causes like theirs, attract donors, and recruit new volunteers through powerful SEM.

Note that Google Ad Grants are only for search network campaigns, which means your ads will be text-only and you’ll have a maximum bid of $2.00 for each keyword. Note that Google limits Ad Grants accounts to $329 USD per day.

7 Questions to Ask Before Applying for the Google Ad Grant

Applying for Google Ad Grants is a lengthy process. Especially if you already don’t have enough hours in your day to get everything done, you don’t want to waste your time applying if it won’t be valuable. To help, we’ve put together 7 key questions that will help gauge whether the Google Ad Grant will be beneficial to your cause.

1. Does my organization meet the eligibility requirements?

Before critically considering the program’s role in your fundraising and marketing efforts, determine if you’re eligible first. Google implements eligibility criteria to make sure that organizations will actually gain value from the program and have worthwhile content to share.

Some of these requirements include:

  • Holding a current and valid charity status in your country. For nonprofits in the U.S., you’ll need to be registered as a 501(c)(3) organization.
  • Having a high-quality website with promotable content. This includes owning the domain, sharing sufficient details regarding the organization, having HTTPS security, and more.
  • Being registered with TechSoup and Google for Nonprofits before applying for Google Ad Grants.

Even if you meet their first round of requirements, certain types of organizations are automatically ineligible to participate. These include government organizations, healthcare organizations, and educational institutions. Although, there is a separate program specifically for schools and other educational organizations known as Google for Education.

2. Do I have the know-how to manage a Google Grant account?

I won’t lie to you: there’s a reason Google Ads certification is a great addition to a marketer’s résumé. Google Ads is one of the tougher advertising tools to master. Even certified professionals still learn new things about Google Ads every day!

The good news is that you don’t need to be Google Ads certified to use a Google Grant. Plus, Google provides plenty of free training to help you learn how to leverage its tools. 

The downside is that there is a lot to learn if you’re a novice. Google Ads is an advertising platform that’s difficult to learn on the fly. And you’ll need some basic knowledge about PPC advertising, keywords, SEO, and how search engines work. If you’re curious about what all goes into managing an account, Getting Attention’s guide to Google Ad Grant account optimization covers the key concepts you should keep in mind.

If you have that background and are willing to take on the challenge, the Google Ad Grant may still be perfect for you! If you’re still struggling to figure out how to use geotargeting tools (or have never tried), you may want to hold off until you get a little more comfortable with online advertising first. Or, you can always outsource the work to a professional!

3. Do I have the time to actively manage my campaigns?

While the Google Ad Grants program can transform your marketing, it’s not a set-it-and-forget-it type of advertising. You’ll need to devote quite a bit of time and effort before and after you’re approved. You’ll need to make time to:

  • Bring your website up to speed with Google’s guidelines and ensure your content is conversion-optimized.
  • Register with TechSoup and create a Google for Nonprofits account, which can take quite a few weeks.
  • Fill out the application form and make adjustments if you’re not approved.
  • Set up your ad campaigns, which requires researching keywords, creating ad copy, and choosing a relevant landing page.
  • Monitor performance each day. Then, add and remove keywords, adjust your bids, tweak your ads, and so on based on campaign results.

So, think realistically about your capacity, and consider whether it’s something you can easily build into your schedule. If you’re not sure if you can manage it yourself, it may be a great opportunity to find a professional who can help you set up your campaigns and manage them for you.

4. What are my goals for Google Ad Grants?

A big indicator of whether the Google Ad Grant is right for your nonprofit is if it aligns with your nonprofit’s strategic direction. Sometimes it’s tempting to apply just because it’s there. It’s not hard to get approved — and it’s the sort of thing that would be great to tell your board, right? $10,000 per month from Google! How awesome is that?!

But unless getting more traffic to your website is one of your nonprofit’s major goals, a Google Ad Grant could turn into a huge time-suck that you aren’t able to leverage successfully. 

That’s partially why Google requires you to set specific conversion goals, whether they’re monetary or not. Here’s how they break down their recommended goals:

  • Purchases and sales: Examples include donations, purchases, membership sales, and ticket sales.
  • Sign-ups: These could be volunteer sign-ups, email sign-ups, new membership form submissions, event sign-ups, or free account registrations.
  • Leads: This might include the number of downloads of information, clicks-to-call, clicks-to-email, clicks to social accounts, or contact form submissions.
  • Views of a key page: This could include visits to your “Contact Us” page, time spent on site, pages per session, or videos watched.

Determine whether these goals support your overall strategic objectives before applying, then determine if you have landing pages that will support these goals (e.g. an optimized volunteer sign-up form to boost volunteer registrations).

If you’d simply like to boost your presence in search results, there are ways you can optimize your existing website to boost organic traffic or make updates to your business listing on Google that require less effort and can improve your visibility.

5. How robust is my website?

Google has several requirements regarding website quality. They do this to ensure that you have content worth promoting that will actually be useful to your nonprofit and users who come across your ads.

When was the last time you updated your nonprofit’s website? If it’s been a while, you’ll want to make sure your website is in good shape before applying for a Google Ad Grant. Here are a few things to consider when evaluating your site and determining the program’s usefulness to your nonprofit:

  • Make sure your nonprofit owns its site’s domain. If you’re still using your Mightycause page as your website, you’ll need to build your own custom site before even considering a Google Ad Grant. All you’ll need to do is choose a reliable domain registrar (you can even do this through Google) and purchase your domain through them.
  • Include information about your nonprofit. Make sure it’s incredibly clear what your nonprofit does. Google requires you to have a clear description of your organization, mission, and activities. 
  • Make sure your site is of high quality overall. Google requires that your site features unique content, loads quickly, doesn’t contain broken links, and is fully secured with HTTPS.

These are just a few ways you can analyze your current site. One final thing you’ll want to think about is search engine optimization (SEO). SEO and Ads work hand-in-hand. So, if you’re not sure if you’re targeting keywords with any pages on your website, you may want to work on improving your website’s SEO first. This guide from Moz is a great place to start if you want to learn about SEO.

6. Am I confident our nonprofits’ ads can perform?

The Google Ad Grants program has some specific performance requirements for nonprofits. Some of these, like having two sitelink extensions, are easy. Others, like maintaining a 5% clickthrough rate (CTR), are more difficult. If you fail to meet these requirements, your account can be deactivated — and having an account reinstated can be a very tricky process.

If you’re a Google Ads neophyte, the program probably isn’t right for you. But, if you’re comfortable with PPC advertising, you can write ad copy, and your organization has an awesome website, an Ad Grant might be perfect for you!

Even if you’re new to PPC advertising, there are plenty of resources out there that teach you. After all, everyone has to start somewhere! If you simply can’t allocate time to learning about Google Ads and related tools, you can always seek advice from an expert, which brings us to our next question.

7. Will we need professional help?

If you don’t have the time or knowledge to manage your Google Grants account, consider professional help. First, they can help determine how (and if) the Google Ad Grant will benefit your team. You can share information regarding your strategic goals and chat about potential use cases and strategies for your account.

Beyond this, Double the Donation’s guide to hiring a Google Grants agency explains that experts can help in the following ways:

  • Applying for the Google Ad Grant
  • Setting up your campaigns, including keyword research and ad copy development
  • Optimizing your landing pages to drive conversions
  • Monitoring performance and making adjustments to your ads based on results
  • Maintaining monthly compliance with Google’s guidelines

If you’re low on staff time, seeking professional Google Ad Grant management help can be incredibly useful, but you should also compare the costs with your budget before making your decision.

What To Do if You’re Not Ready for the Google Ad Grant Yet

If you’ve drawn the conclusion that an Ad Grant isn’t right for you at this time, don’t sweat it! There are steps you can take to improve your search presence and get more traffic to your website in the meantime. Then, down the road, you may be ready for that grant!

Here’s what you can do right now to help prepare you for the Google Ad Grant:

  • Get your website up to code. Compare your website with Google’s website quality guidelines and fix anything that you flag.
  • Learn about SEO and optimize your website. It’s a good idea to start generating organic traffic, associate your site with relevant keywords, and make sure your landing pages are equipped to drive conversions.
  • Make sure your nonprofit’s business info is up to date on Google. This will help supporters and potential beneficiaries find basic information about your organization.
  • Chat with a Google Ad Grants expert. Experts know all about the program and can help you figure out whether the program can support your organization’s goals. Plus, they can help you get ready to apply!
  • Leverage free training resources. To get comfortable with Google’s tools, you can complete some free training for the different products that you’ll use, like Google Ads and Google Analytics.

You can also try running a campaign on Mightycause and using it to test out different advertising techniques to see what works best for your organization! Try adding on a PPC campaign to a Giving Day like #GivingTuesday. The more data you can gather about how effective PPC advertising can be for your nonprofit, the better you will be able to assess whether a Google Ad Grant is worthwhile to pursue.

If the Google Ad Grant already sounds like a good fit for your team, what are you waiting for? Go out there and apply for the program!

Try downloading The Ultimate Guide to Nonprofit Fundraising! It’s free and packed with information that will help you raise more money for your cause.

   Download Now

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