By Grant Hensel, CEO of Nonprofit Megaphone – an agency that specializes in Google Grant management for nonprofits. Nonprofit Megaphone is Google Certified and supports over 300 nonprofit clients.


What is the Google Grant?

The Google Ad Grant is one of the most powerful, yet under-appreciated tools in nearly every nonprofit’s marketing toolbox. Although the program has been available for over a decade, our research shows that more than half of all nonprofit professionals are not aware of the Google Grant and how it can help nonprofits of all sizes.

In short, the Google Grant provides nonprofits with $10,000 each and every month to spend on ads in Google Search. As long as you follow the rules, this $10,000 allotment renews every month…forever.

What’s more, every 501(c)(3) nonprofit – other than hospitals, schools, and government organizations – is eligible for the Google Grant. There is no limit on the number of nonprofits who can be approved for the program, unlike traditional grants. If you apply and you are eligible, you will be approved. We will discuss this further in the “Eligibility” section.

The big takeaway is that: if your nonprofit has a website, and it would be valuable for you to reach people who are Googling topics related to your work, the Google Grant is one of the most cost-effective and powerful tools available to reach your audience.

A Real-Life Example

One of our clients, the COPD Foundation, has a free screening tool that individuals can use to determine if they are at risk for COPD. 

The COPD Foundation uses the Google Ad Grant to reach people who are Googling questions about COPD in particular or similar symptoms in general and directs them to the Screener page on their website:

Individuals can then fill out the free assessment to see if they are at an elevated risk for COPD. 

Each month, thousands of people see COPD Foundation’s Google Ads and click through to their website, where they receive valuable information. In addition, hundreds of people complete the online screening. 

These simple actions can be potentially life-changing, and they are all made possible by ads posted at the top of Google Search results.

Example Use Cases: Google Grant Case Studies

Let’s make the Grant more tangible: how are real nonprofit organizations using it? 

The following data points are drawn from some of the dozens of Google Grant case studies on our website. Nonprofits are using the Grant in the following ways: 

  • Informing and educating the public by attracting new visitors to blog posts, videos, and PDF resources
  • Selling tickets for performances and events
  • Driving in-person actions such as adopting an animal 
  • Recruiting volunteers to advance the organization’s mission
  • Advocating by galvanizing grassroots activism, signing petitions, and contacting elected officials
  • Promoting donation and sponsorship opportunities to generate funds
  • Building an audience by attracting new subscribers to newsletters 

If people are searching for something on Google and you have a page addressing that topic on your website, you can use the Google Grant to reach those searchers, drive them to your website, and ask them to take the next step of helping push your organization’s mission forward.

Should Small Nonprofits Use the Google Grant?

One of the most common questions we receive is whether the Google Grant is worth it for small nonprofits. 

In many cases, the answer is yes. 

The main factors that determine how valuable the Google Grant will be for you are: 

  • How many people are searching for the topics that your organization deals with? 
  • Do you have content on your website that speaks to those topics? 

The answers to these questions are not dependent on how large or small your organization may be! There are huge numbers of very small nonprofits who serve large audiences and have the website content their target population is looking for. These nonprofits do very well with the Google Ad Grant. This is one of the few areas in the world where every nonprofit gets the same amount of ad credit each month and gives small organizations a more level playing field compared to their larger peers.

Google Grant Eligibility

The Google Grant is available for nonprofits in over 50 counties. The process varies slightly depending on which country you are applying in, and the full list of eligible geographic locations is available on Google’s website. In this article, we will focus on eligibility in the United States. 

To be eligible: 

  • You must be an IRS-approved 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization
  • You cannot be a hospital, school, or government agency 
  • Your website must be hosted on your own domain (for example, ournonprofit.org, not ournonprofit.weebly.com) and adhere to the website policy
  • If you are applying for the Google Grant for the first time today, your website must have an SSL certificate installed (a lock icon will appear in the navigation bar in Google Chrome). If you see “not secure” next to your website’s URL in Chrome, it means SSL is not installed or there is a configuration issue. 
  • You must agree to the Google for Nonprofits and Google Ads terms of service 

Note that faith-based organizations, including houses of worship, are eligible for the Google Grant. However, your organization must have formally applied for and received 501(c)(3) status. Houses of worship are often tax-exempt by default, and so many have never officially applied for this status. If that is the case, you will need to apply and have 501(c)(3) status granted before you begin applying for the Google Grant. 

Unlike traditional grants. where there is a limited amount of money available, every eligible organization that meets the criteria and complies with the Google policies will be approved. This is why it is such a significant opportunity for almost every nonprofit that needs to reach people online.

How to Apply for the Google Grant

There are a number of steps that must be completed before applying for the Google Grant itself. The application is available through Google for Nonprofits. If your organization does not yet have a Google for Nonprofits account, the first step is to create one. 

The diagram below shows a simple flowchart with questions you can ask as you begin the process:

Once you have set up or logged into your Google for Nonprofits account, you can begin applying for the Google Grant. Currently, this happens in two phases. First, you submit your website for review to the Google Ad Grants team, who certify whether your web presence is ready. 

After this first phase is approved, the second phase is building out a basic Google Ads account, and submitting that for approval. The application process will walk you through this in detail, and we won’t duplicate that information here. 

However, one area to note is that you must have conversion tracking set up as part of the application process. This means that you: 

  • Have Google Analytics installed on your website (ideally, we recommend installing Google Tag Manager as well)
  • Have set up one or more “Goals” within Google Analytics for valuable actions that users can perform on your website (we will discuss this further in the “Conversion Tracking” section below) 

This means that if another person on your team or another company manages your website, you will want to let them know you may need their assistance installing or configuring Google Analytics as part of the application process. 

When applying, you will be given the choice of applying for a “Smart Campaigns” or a “Classic” Google Ads account. Make sure you apply for the “Classic” account. Smart Campaigns, formerly known as “AdWords Express”, is essentially a baby version of Google Ads and has far less functionality.

Website Readiness for the Google Grant

As mentioned above, one of the factors that can limit your ability to maximize the value of the Google Grant is website content. To help you quickly understand your website’s current level of readiness, we have created a free Google Grant Website Rubric tool:

If your rubric score isn’t looking too good, the best way to improve your readiness is to create content that will perform well for the Google Grant

Websites that perform well with the Google Grant have lots of individual pages (at least 10 and ideally many more) that are each “promotable.” 

Promotable pages have the following characteristics: 

  • Single focus. Each topic should have its own page on your website. Nonprofits often have issues where they have a single page that lists all of the programs, for example, but don’t have a separate page for each program. This is confusing to a searcher: if they are looking for information on a specific program but they land on a page and have to scroll all the way through to find it, they may hit the “back” button before they see what they came for.
  • A widely searched Topic. There are some things that very few people search for! For example, a blog post recapping your most recent fundraising event is not something that there is a lot of search traffic for. But, on the other hand, informational content that answers common questions about the area of your work can make for great content. Check out Google Trends or paid tools like Moz to collect data on what people are searching for.
  • Sufficient content. Google isn’t particularly impressed by a page on your website if it only has a few sentences of content. In contrast, well-researched, in-depth pages tend to perform much better with the Google Ad Grant (and Google organic search as well).
  • A call to action. Once someone lands on a page on your website, what is the next step you want them to take? Whether it’s watching a video, subscribing to email updates, or filling out a form, make it clear with a prominent call to action buttons and links so that visitors can keep moving forward after they arrive on your site. 

Google Grant Compliance

And now, time for everyone’s favorite topic… Google Grant compliance. As the rules sometimes change, it can be worth bookmarking the Google Ad Grants compliance page to keep up-to-date with any shifting rules. To get you started, we’ll outline a few of the most important requirements here: 

Account Structure: 

  • Each active campaign in your account must have at least two active ad groups.
  • Each active ad group must have at least two active ads.
  • There must be at least two active site link extensions (more on this in a moment).
  • Your campaigns must have realistic geo-targeting in place. If you only serve one city, don’t advertise to the whole country. 

Keywords: 

  • Single-word keywords are not allowed unless it is one of the approved exceptions.
  • Keywords should be related to your mission and not overly vague.
  • Keywords must maintain a quality score (which is measured on a 10-point scale) of at least 3.

Performance: 

  • Your account must maintain an overall click-through rate of at least 5%. This means that for every 100 people who see your ads, at least 5 of them need to click. 
  • Your account must be tracking conversions and must record at least one conversion per month. However, conversion rates of over 15% per month are considered excessive and suggest that the conversions you are tracking are not particularly meaningful. For example, “Viewed the About Page” does not constitute a meaningful action and should not be tracked as a conversion. 

Other: 

  • Organizations must respond to the Google Grant program survey when it is sent out via email once per year

Failure to comply with the Google Grant policies can and will lead to the suspension of your account… so follow the rules! 

What a Great Google Grant Ad Account Looks Like

We are asked to audit existing Google Ads accounts all the time. There are a few ways to quickly tell if an account has been set up effectively, or if there is room for improvement. 

A healthy Google Ad Grant account typically has the following characteristics: 

  • Ideally at least 3-5+ campaigns (but not so many as to be unwieldy). Typically organizations create campaigns for each of the main areas they wish to advertise. For example, one account might have campaigns for “Programs”, “Blog”, “Volunteering”, “Advocacy” and so forth.
  • Each campaign has many (tightly focused) ad groups. The ad groups within each campaign should individually address tightly targeted groups of keywords. If your organization is an animal shelter, for example, you might have an “Adoption” campaign. Within that campaign, you could have the following ad groups. Each of these ad groups would contain a few closely-related keywords, as well as ads that address the exact area that the user was searching for. Examples include:
      • Adopt a dog
      • Adopt a cat
      • Adoptable dogs
      • Adoptable cats
      • Adopt don’t shop
      • Why animal adoption matters
      • Adopting a pet
      • Adopting an animal
      • Adopt animals near me
  • Each ad group has at least three ads, with one RSA. While the requirement is having at least two ads in each ad group, we recommend having three, with one of them being an RSA (Responsive Search Ad). RSAs allow you to supply many different headlines and descriptions, which the Google algorithm will mix and match in an effort to create the highest possible click-through rate for you. While RSAs take a bit longer to create, they have produced excellent results for nearly all of our clients.
  • Each ad uses the full allotment of headlines and descriptions, including utilizing as much of the character limit as possible. Using more of the allotted space makes your ads appear larger, which can increase the click-through rate and the number of visitors ultimately arriving on your website as a result.
  • Ad extensions are utilized extensively. There are a number of “extensions” that can be added to enhance your ads. In particular, we recommend at a minimum that you use:
      • Callout extensions, which allow you to add short, punchy, “bullet point” style phrases that sometimes appear beneath your ad. 
      • Sitelink extensions, which appends links to other pages on your website that may also be related to your ad. 
      • Call extensions. In situations where you are trying to drive inbound phone calls as well, this extension allows you to display a phone number so people can reach you. On mobile devices, users simply need to tap this number to place a call to your organization. 
  • Effective conversion tracking is in place. More on this in a moment. 

Google Grant Conversion Tracking

Conversion tracking is one of the most, and least appreciated, components of running an effective Google Ad Grant account.

First, a word on why conversion tracking is so important. 

We communicate with the Google Ad Grants team on a nearly weekly basis, and one of the main goals they have is moving the program from “meaningless spend to meaningful conversions.” 

Prior to 2018, the Google Grant program had far fewer compliance rules in place. Many organizations were using overly broad (often single word) keywords. For example, if your organization ran youth soccer leagues in underinvested areas, you might have used simple “soccer” as a keyword. 

This produces enormous amounts of traffic, but it is not particularly relevant to your organization’s mission. This is because your ads are showing whenever people search for anything at all related to soccer. “Soccer schedule tonight”, “world cup soccer”, “custom soccer jerseys” and any of thousands of other keywords are all causing your ad to show. These are the types of “meaningless clicks and meaningless spend” that the compliance rules are designed to avoid. 

In contrast, Google wants nonprofits to be producing meaningful conversions. Examples of website conversions that are worth tracking include: 

  • Filling out the contact form on your website
  • Signing up for your newsletter
  • Registering for an event
  • Donating online
  • Signing a petition
  • Downloading an educational resource
  • Creating an account 
  • And many more…

Browse through your website and write down any of the actions that users can take that are valuable to your organization. You can then set up conversion tracking for each of these actions using Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager. We will do a follow-up post just on this topic, as there is a lot to cover.   

How to View the $10,000

The vast majority of nonprofit organizations do not spend the full $10,000. In fact, a recent survey found that the average nonprofit only spent $800/month of the $10k allotment. 

This happens for three reasons: 

  • Mismanagement. Of course, many nonprofits don’t have the expertise (or, more likely, the time!) to effectively manage the Google Grant, and opportunity is left on the table as a result. But this is actually not the most important reason, and most well-managed accounts will still not spend the full $10k unless the nonprofit serves an enormously large audience.
  • Lack of searchable content. Google designed the program so that your ads are only likely to show if you have something to add to the conversation. If you choose to advertise on a keyword that you don’t have a good landing page on your website for, those ads are not going to perform well and Google will limit the number of people who are seeing them. As a result, you will get fewer visitors to your website and spend less of the Google Grant money.
  • More narrowly-defined audience. If your organization serves a city, it only makes sense to advertise to the people in that city. This means that even if you reach everyone in your target demographic, you probably won’t spend the full $10k. This is ok!

We recommend thinking of the Google Grant as providing effectively unlimited funding, as the vast majority of organizations won’t max out their budgets. Focus on the quality of visitors you are getting to your website from the ads, and, most importantly, the conversions on your site that are happening as a result. Conversions, not spend, is what moves your mission forward. 

If You Need Help: Google Grants Certified Professional Agencies

One of the most common issues we hear from nonprofits is that they worked with a traditional marketing agency on their Google Grant account and that it ended up being a mess. 

This is because the Google Grant program is completely different from paid Google Ads. Paid accounts don’t have any of the restrictions or compliance rules that Google Grants accounts must keep in mind, and the mechanics of how the ads are shown are entirely different. (For one thing, Google Ads are placed via a secondary auction that happens after all of the paid ads have already placed their bids, but that is a topic for another time). 

Google has created a certification program to recognize the agencies that work exclusively or to a large degree with the Google Grants program. Before working with an agency, ask them if they are Google Grants “Certified Professionals.” If they aren’t (or don’t know what you’re talking about) your account is likely better off in other hands. 

And yes, Nonprofit Megaphone is a Certified Professional agency 🙂

Pairing the Google Grant with Paid Ads

While the Google Grant is enormously powerful, some nonprofits want more! There are a few common reasons for deciding to run a paid Google Ads account in addition to your Google Grant account. 

  • Ads Outside Google Search: The Google Grant only allows you to place text ads in Google Search results. If you want to reach people who are not actively searching for a topic, but are perhaps browsing other websites, you can use the Google Display network to place banner ads or run video ads on YouTube.
  • Retargeting: One of the most powerful features in the Google Ads suite is retargeting, which allows you to show ads to people who have previously viewed a page or specific pages on your website. For example, you could use the Google Grant to attract visitors to your site, and then use paid ads to “retarget” individuals who viewed your donation page but did not end up donating.
  • Highly competitive keywords: Google Grant ads always appear below any paid ads that might be placed on a specific keyword. As a result, competing in big-ticket keywords sometimes requires having a paid account. Keep in mind, though, that there are often less competitive versions of many keywords that can be used to reach the same audience, which is a great way to deploy the Google Grant.

Where the Google Grant is Headed

Google continues to invest in improving the Google Grants program for nonprofits. We have been thrilled to work closely with the Google team and see all of the ways they are working to expand the impact and help nonprofits get more out of their online presence. 

If we had to make some guesses about the future, we would imaging that: 

  • Conversion tracking will continue to become more important 
  • Google will continue to enhance the free tools that make the Grant more effective, such as Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, and Google Optimize
  • The importance of having a high-quality website to maximize the value of the Google Grant will continue to increase 

Closing Thoughts: Don’t Be Overwhelmed!

Although this probably seems like a lot to take in all at once, know that tens of thousands of nonprofits have gone before you in successfully acquiring and deploying the Google Grant to promote their missions. You can do this! 

And if you’d like a helping hand, our team at Nonprofit Megaphone is 100% focused on helping nonprofits utilize the Google Grant. We are proud to support over 300 clients and are happy to talk if you are interested in learning more