By Jean O’Brienfounder of Digital Charity Lab, a social enterprise that builds digital skills in non-profits and shares free learning resources. She also works part-time as Head of Digital for Barnardos Ireland and does freelance consulting. 


1) You can get $10k per month in free advertising from Google

Google Ad Grants is an in-kind programme that gives non-profits free access to Google business tools, and incredibly, $10,000 per month in free advertising on their Google Ads platform. Your ads can appear in Google search results when people search for particular terms, and you can set up unlimited ad campaigns in your Google Ad Grants account.

2) It’s one of the easiest grants to get.

The Google Ad Grant doesn’t require you to write pages and pages of supporting information and evidence of impact; all you have to do is register with your local TechSoup partner, fill out a quick form, and upload proof of your charity certification.

All charities (with a few exceptions around hospitals and schools) are eligible, so you’re not competing with other charities for a limited pool of funding.  I don’t think there’s any other grant in the tech sector that is as generous, as easy to acquire, and as useful for getting your cause’s message out.  

3) Google Ads are a hugely effective digital marketing channel.

Google Ads have consistently driven the most engaged and valuable traffic of all acquisition channels. Over a 12 month period for one charity I work with,13% of all goals were driven by Google Ads (noted here as Paid Search); over four times as many as by social media. 

If Google Ad Grants didn’t exist, I’d still recommend that charities allocate a budget to Google Ads because they reach an extremely relevant, timely audience. For example, Think about the difference between a Facebook Ad and a Google Ad:

  • Facebook Ad: You use demographic targeting and previous engagement to promote your charity holiday cards. You reach an audience who are fairly likely to buy and some will convert, but you have no way of eliminating people who’ve already bought their cards for this year, and you’re competing with lots of other ads and visual clutter.
  • Google Ad: Someone is ready to buy charity holiday cards and googles ‘charity holiday card.’ Your ad for holiday cards appears in the person’s search results, perfectly matching their expressed interest.  

If your organization is spending money on Facebook Ads, but haven’t yet applied for a Google Ad Grant, you definitely need to re-examine your priorities!

4) Google Ads are not as difficult to manage as you might think.

It’s understandable that many non-profits are put off by Google Ads; it’s not exactly the most enticing interface in the world – unless you’re a fan of very long spreadsheets. But it’s nowhere near as complicated as it looks, and once you learn to use it, you’ll see that it is, in fact, a very logical system.

Take some time to learn Google Ads: you can grasp the key concepts in a few hours. Also, don’t let volunteers access your Google Ad Grants account unless they know what they’re doing. One of the worst ad accounts I’ve ever seen was set up by a volunteer from a leading digital agency.

5) Grasp three key concepts to make Google Ads work for your organization.

Understanding these three concepts is essential to Google Ads success:

  1. Always start with keyword research.
    If people aren’t searching for a particular term, your ads won’t show. There’s a brilliant tool built into Google Ads called the Keyword Planner, which lets you see how many people are searching for each term, and what phrases they’re using.
  2. Use broad match modified keywords.
    There’s a keyword format called ‘broad match modified’ that’s really effective. Google doesn’t mention this as an option when you set up your Google Ad Grants account, but it works and it’s powerful. The syntax is a plus sign in front of each word (+animal +charity) and it means that variations of each word will also trigger your ad. For example, a search for ‘charities that work with animals’ will match the keyword +animal +charity.  Broad match modified keywords give you the perfect combination of reach (getting your ads seen by the maximum amount of searchers) and relevance (ensuring that the searchers are likely to be interested in your ad).
  3. Always put your keywords in your Ad copy.
    Deceptively simple, this one. Set up an ad for each keyword, and make sure the keyword appears within the ad copy: in both the headline and description. This means that your ad will closely match what searchers are looking for, and make them more likely to click.  

6) Conduct keyword research about your organization.

Setting up ads for everything that your charity is doing is a very common misstep, but it leads to a lot of problems. Start by doing keyword research to find out which of your issues, services, and campaigns people are actually searching for and interested in. Then, set up Google Ad campaigns for those issues, services, and campaigns first. If you don’t conduct the research, then your organization is going to end up with a lot of low performing campaigns and you will struggle to reach the minimum performance required by Google.

7) Google Ads are for clicks, not for awareness.

Charities with low performing Google Ad Grants accounts say that their ads are useful for raising awareness, but that’s not how Google Ads work. If people aren’t clicking your ads, then the ad will not display multiple times the way Facebook Ads do. Google stops showing ads that aren’t getting clicks and penalizes accounts with low click-through rates. You have one chance with a Google Ad, and the best measure of success is a click.

8) Don’t use thousands of keywords.

One of the most common mistakes that non-profits make with their Google Ad Grants accounts is to add thousands of keywords to their account. One charity used a random tool that scraped every single word from their website and added them to Google Ads as keywords. This was painful to see! It meant that the charity was trying to bid on completely random words like ‘places’ and ‘difference’. This doesn’t work. Use Google’s Broad Match Modifier to ensure your keywords match lots of different searches, but restrict the keywords to two or three per Ad Group.  

9) Your Google Ad Grants account requires care and feeding.

There have always been rules about maintaining your Grant Grant Ads account, such as mandatory monthly logins, and as of late 2017, a minimum 5% CTR, no more global targeting, and no single word keywords. You need to maintain your Google Grant Ads account or it will be suspended. Google is being very strict and many accounts are getting shut down.

The key is to make Google Ads a habit.  Once you have a couple of well-performing campaigns set up on your account, set a reminder to log in once every three weeks and spend 30-45 minutes checking and tweaking your account.  Every three weeks is frequent enough to spot problems before they get out of control, it’ll keep you compliant, and it’s a realistic amount of time for a busy non-profit. Digital Charity Lab has a free checklist that will help you do this work quickly and efficiently.

10) Don’t use Google AdWords Express.

Many charities have been steered towards using Google AdWords Express by Google support staff for managing their Google Ad Grants account. AdWords Express is a stripped back version of Google Ads that is ostensibly easier to use, but it is missing important functionality. AdWords Express won’t let you do many of the tricks that make Google Ads perform so well, such as broad match modified keywords, and you can’t see all data relevant to your ads. AdWords Express is not a timesaver if it doesn’t work. Invest the time to become a pro in the full version of Google Ads.

11) Don’t advertise on competitor brand names.

Google forbade the use of competitor brand names in the changes announced in 2017. It was always bad practice for charities to be advertising on competitor brand names. Think it through: if someone searches for the term ‘Oxfam’, they are looking for Oxfam. If they wanted ‘charities that are similar to Oxfam’ they would have Googled that instead.  Trying to get your ads seen by using competitor terms will only result in a low click-through rate because your ads won’t be relevant.

12) Don’t despair if your Google Ad Grants account is struggling or has been shut down.

It’s not that difficult to fix an account that’s struggling. Digital Charity Lab has a free compliance checklist that will help you fix a non-compliant account. Google will also send you compliance reports that will show you precisely which areas of your account need fixing. Even if your account is canceled, you can apply to restore it. It’s well worth investing the time to restore your account, as once your account is in good shape, it won’t take much time to manage and it will deliver valuable traffic to your site.


Easy, Effective Google Grant AdWords for Non-Profits

Digital Charity Lab has an online course on Easy, Effective, Google Grant AdWords for Non-Profits. This course takes about two hours and contains lots of downloadable resources to help you plan, manage, and improve your Google Ads. We have a special discount for Non-Profit Tech for Good readers, at over 60% off the full price. Please note that Google recently renamed Google AdWords to Google Ads, however, the functionality and best practices remain the same.

12 Things Non-Profits Need to Know About Google Ad Grants