Google Ad Grants are a terrific fundraising and marketing tool that Google makes available to nonprofits and charities. So what are Google Ad Grants? A Google Grant provides $10,000 each month to nonprofits to spend on Google Search ads. This can bring an additional 60,000 new, targeted visitors to your website each year. While there are program requirements, as long as a nonprofit continues to meet these eligibility requirements, there is no end to the period that they will receive these benefits and no maximum benefit that can be received.

Over 100,000 nonprofits worldwide have taken advantage of Google Grants since the program was established in 2003, yet most nonprofits have never taken part in the program and many more are no longer receiving Google Ad Grants because they did not take the necessary steps to keep their account active.

Google Grants can be a great fundraising option for almost all nonprofits. Essentially all 501(c)(3) organizations qualify unless they are hospitals, schools, or government organizations.  As long as an organization meets the basic eligibility requirements, which almost all nonprofits do, and the application is submitted correctly, the nonprofit will be approved for a Google Grant.

Nearly all nonprofits could benefit from the Google Ads that Google Grants provides. The free ads can be used to drive additional traffic to your website, increase your organization’s reach, and help get out your message.

How Can You Use a Google Grant?

Organizations use their Google Grants several different ways. These include:

  • Encouraging donations from donors and potential donors.
  • Building a donor or subscriber base by collecting contact information from those subscribing to newsletters, white papers, and other resources that you make available.
  • Educating the public and advocating about issues and informing the public about issue areas.
  • For use in program services and better enabling nonprofits to reach their target audience in order to perform their charitable purpose. It can also be used to provide information about any services provided by the organization.
  • Recruiting volunteers and other individuals who can get involved in supporting the nonprofit’s mission.
  • Informing about events and selling tickets to meetings, galas, fun runs, or any other activity.
  • Encouraging actions such as signing petitions or driving social media engagement.

Any goal of your organization that can be accomplished by reaching a wider audience and having them come to specific pages your website can be accomplished with Google Grant Ads and you can certainly use Google Ads to accomplishing multiple goals.

An example of Google Search Ads for nonprofits featuring the American Red Cross, TechnoServe, and The Ocean Conservancy

Can Small Nonprofits Participate in the Google Grant Program?

Absolutely.  The program is available to any nonprofit that can benefit from having more exposure and a bigger audience. Small nonprofits are eligible for Google Grants and they can often reap the same advantages that a larger organization, such as additional donations, increasing their audience, and encouraging people to take action.

Many small organizations accomplish a lot with their Google Ads Grants. If they have valuable content that will spark engagement or if they provide pertinent information that people search for, they will likely get a lot of value out of the Google Grants.

For brand new organizations, they may need to wait a few months before being eligible to participate, but they can qualify for Google Grants and thereby make sure that more people can learn about their organization.

Which Organizations Are Eligible for Google Grants?

Nonprofits and charities in over 50 countries can be eligible for Google Grants. For the United States, the organization must have filed with the IRS as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. In addition, the organization must meet the following requirements:

  • The organization cannot be a governmental agency, a hospital, or a school.
  • You must agree to the Google Ads and Google for Nonprofits terms of service.
  • Your website must be hosted on your own separate domain.
  • Your website must have an SSL certificate installed to ensure that it is secure.

In other countries there are similar requirements regarding the types of organizations that can participate. As long as an organization meets these requirements, they will be eligible for a Google Grant. You do not need to apply during a certain period or be selected in place of other nonprofits.   Every organization that qualifies and applies correctly can get a grant.

How Do You Apply for a Google Grant?

It can be complex to figure out how to apply for a Google Ad Grant. Prior to the Google Grant application, there are a few steps that must be completed first:

  • Make sure you have Google Analytics set up on your website
  • Register as a nonprofit with TechSoup.org
  • Enroll in Google for Nonprofits
  • As part of the enrollment in Google for Nonprofits you will need to go to your TechSoup account, then to the tab called Validation Token and get a validation token
  • You can then apply for Google Grants using the Google Grants application form.

Free Webinar: An Introduction to the Google Ad Grant for Nonprofits

Join Grant Republic for a free webinar on May 3 that will provide an overview of the Google Ad Grants program and guide your nonprofit through important areas, such as eligibility requirements, potential uses of Google Ad Grants, the application process, and how to remain compliant in the program month after month.

<<Learn More & Register>>


How Do Nonprofits Build Out Their Google Ads Account?

In addition to an approval to your Google Grant Application, your nonprofit will also need to build out your Google Ad accounts with the appropriate campaigns, ad groups, ads, keywords, etc., and get them approved. There are several different requirements and best practices for setting up your Google Ads campaigns which you should follow to get the most benefit from your account and continue being able to participate in the program.

This is a quite detailed subject, but a basic guideline to follow is to avoid using Smart Campaigns which are automated and less powerful because Google hides most of the functionality for these types of campaigns.

You will also want to create multiple campaigns with numerous ad groups each of which should have at least three ads. It is a good idea to use different ad types, but you will need one to be a responsive text ad. Additional Google Ad features that you will want to take advantage of are:

  • Ad extensions which provide more information to web searchers
  • Negative Keywords which exclude some searches from seeing your ads if they are not relevant
  • Geotargeting and audience set up so only those that would be interested in your ads see them

Getting Your Site Ready for Google Ads

Along with setting up a campaign correctly, a nonprofit will also need to set up its website well to take full advantage of its Google Ads. This is in part because Google Grants only allows ads that are at a Quality Score of 2 or higher and also because a strong website will just lead to better results for your Google Ad campaigns.

Your website should be mobile-ready and should load fast. It also should have some “cornerstone content” pages which are key pages that are authoritative and detailed about a commonly searched for topic and which link to other key pages on your website. Make sure the page provides relevant content and ideally is written for a large audience.

Google has a lot of rules that need to be followed for an organization’s Google Ads account to continue to be active.  Below are the most important ones from Google’s Ad Grants Policy Compliance Guide.

Performance:

  • The account must maintain a 5% click-through rate each month. This can be a tough hurdle for those that did not optimize their accounts.  Failing to meet this threshold for 2 consecutive months can result in a temporary account deactivation.
  • All accounts created after January 2018 must have conversion tracking in place in Google Ads and need to have at least one meaningful conversion per month. The conversion goal needs to be more meaningful than just tracking if someone clicks on your ad, but should instead record key actions taken by site visitors such as their filling out a contact form.  You should set up the conversion in Google Analytics and import it into Google Ads.

Account Structure:

  • The account must have at least 2 ad groups per campaign.
  • The account must have at least 2 ads per ad group
  • The account must have at least 2 sitelink ad extensions. Sitelinks are links to specific pages of your website that appear as part of the ad.

Keywords:

  • All Keywords must have a quality score higher than 2. You should set up an automated rule that pauses all keywords when they have a quality score of 1 or 2.  Alternatively you can change your website and make the keywords more relevant and thereby increase the quality score.
  • All keywords must be composed of at least two words and cannot be single-word keywords. There are a few exceptions such as the organization’s brand, but in general, Google wants you to avoid overly broad keywords.
  • Similar to the last item, no overly generic keywords are permitted.

Activity:

  • You must log in to the account at least monthly
  • You must implement changes to the account at least once every 90 days

Miscellaneous:

  • The nonprofit must respond to Google’s annual program survey. The annual survey is emailed once a year and can also be submitted by going directly to the online form.
  • There are rules about election advertising and specific rules for certain types of organizations that may need certain certifications.
  • You can only advertise domains that you own and that you have submitted to Google. You cannot have ads that send people to third-party sites such as your social media pages.
  • Your campaigns should be about your charitable purpose, events, and similar topics.
  • Certain groups such as hate groups are prohibited.

How To Set Up a Google Grant Ad Account

Below is a description of what your nonprofit should do when setting up your Google Ads account, but you may want to use a professional that knows additional tricks and tips. At the minimum, your nonprofit will benefit from a free consultation with Grant Republic about your Google Ads and Google Grants accounts.

The requirements which Google Grants implements should be viewed as a starting point. While having two campaigns is the minimum required for Google Grants, ideally you should have at least four or five campaigns. You should have a campaign for each of the main goals that you are trying to accomplish. So you could have one for recruiting donors, one for recruiting volunteers, one for spreading your message to a wider audience, etc. This will make the campaign easier to manage and allow the keywords, ads, and extensions to be more tailored.

Each of the campaigns should have several ad groups.  Each ad group should be very tailored to a specific topic and group of keywords. That way each ad group, ad, landing page, associated keyword, audience setting, and extensions are tightly related and fit together like pieces of a puzzle. You want to make sure that the ads that you show are as targeted as they can be and very directly relate to what the user was searching for.

Each ad group should contain at least two ads, but more ads is generally better. Google will show the ad that it thinks is the best fit for each individual web search.  By having more ads you give Google more opportunities to pick the best fit. Similarly, it is a good idea to have multiple types of ads and in particular to include Responsive Search Ads which act as a stand in for many different ads.

Responsive Search Ads display multiple different headlines and descriptions and Google selects the ones that it feels would be the best match and thus would create the highest probability of the user clicking on the ad. Responsive Search Ads can increase your click-through rate which helps keep you above Google’s thresholds.

Your ads should be well-written and have powerful call-to-actions to encourage those viewing an ad to take a specific course of action. An ad should be written to grab a reader’s attention which can be done with engaging content, interesting statistics and facts, and by laying out a specific benefit that the reader can gain by clicking the ad and going to your site.

Audiences should be defined. Google Ads gives you lots of options on who to show ads to and when.  You should use these settings to make sure the ad is showing to the intended target audience. You should also use negative keywords to make sure that your ads do not get shown to those that are not the intended audience and would not be interested in them.

Over time you can monitor the searches that people use to find your site and continue adding them to a negative keyword list if they are not relevant to your organization. Similarly, you should limit your ads so that they are only shown to people in a specific geographic area.

Use Maximize Conversions for at least one campaign.  Typically it makes sense to control as much of the campaign as possible and until November 2021 when Google changed the Google Grants program there was not a reason to use the Maximize Conversions Bidding Strategy instead of Manual bidding. Before this change, all keyword bids were limited to $2 per click.  Due to this limitation and the 5% Click Through Rate (CTR) requirement, most Google Grants recipients only used a small percentage of their Google Grant allowance.

Google has now changed the Google Grants program so that you can circumvent the $2 bidding restriction if the campaign uses the Maximize Conversion bidding strategy.  By using the Maximize Conversions bid strategy for one campaign you can set a budget for the conversion which will in practice makes the bids exceed the $2 per click threshold which will lead to your ads in that campaign being shown and clicked more often. This will use up some of the grant allowance, but since most nonprofits under-utilize the amount of the grant each month anyway, using Maximize Conversions on a campaign should bring better results in terms of clicks and conversions and not have any downsides.

Use lots of keywords.  To fully take advantage of your Google Grant and your Google Adwords Account, you must make use of lots of keywords. Keywords can be any collection of words that are relevant to web searchers and which relate to your organization. Certain popular keywords will have lots of organizations or companies bidding on them and it is hard with Google Grants to compete with paid search accounts since your ads will only be shown below all paid ads. Thus you should focus a lot of attention on long-tailed keywords which appear less commonly in searches, but are still common enough to be useful.  If you are bidding on dozens or hundreds of long-tailed keywords this can be a very effective strategy.

Use Ad Extensions. There are many types of Google Ad Extensions that can lead to higher click-through rates. All extensions give you extra screen real estate and so are worthwhile for that reason alone. Google Ad Extensions that every nonprofit should definitely use are:

  • Sitelink extensions include links to specific pages of your website. Having two sitelink extensions are required for ads under the Google Grants program, but having more is better, so try aiming for six or more sitelink extensions.
  • Callout extensions are those where you get to specify what makes your organization special and include phrases to entice web searchers to click your link.
  • Call extensions provide a phone number in the ad so that people can easily call you.

There are numerous other extension types that can be useful depending on the nature of the nonprofit, such as:

  • Location extensions which list the organization’s address and thus can be useful for organizations serving a certain geographic area, such as a church.
  • Message extensions which allow people to send a text message to your organization and communicate through texts.
  • Structured snippet extensions which are a bit more complex, but can be a good way to provide information about the organization’s services in a format that machines understand.

How Can Google Grants Be Used in Conjunction with Other Advertising and Marketing?

Google Grants is a great addition to a nonprofit’s overall fundraising, marketing, and communications strategy. Google Ads can drive people to join a mailing list, follow the organization’s social media accounts, and be used to convert visitors into donors. You first may need to introduce visitors to your organization, then later convert them into subscribers and ultimately donors. For many visitors, your Google Ad may be the first time an individual has heard about your organization so it may not be the best time to ask for a donation, but instead, make it a gradual process.

You may also want to take the knowledge gained in your Google Ads account to set up a Microsoft Ads or Facebook Ads account, or improve campaigns your already running on Microsoft and Facebook. Many of the things you learn about your audience in Google Ads and what they are looking for will be applicable to other advertising methods.

If you are having success with your Google Grants account, you also may want to consider also having a paid Google Ads account that offers additional tools and settings. These include advertising on the Google Display Network, which includes numerous other sites such as YouTube and Gmail, and can be used to place banner ads on affiliated websites as well as on videos, sites, and apps. You can pay for the paid Google Ads with the funds raised by your Google Grants account and use paid ads to expand your reach even further.

You can also use retargeting in conjunction with display ads so that you can show display ads to those that had previously visited your website. This can put off some users if used excessively, but it is a very powerful strategy not available to those only using a free Google Grants account.

Another advantage of a paid Google Ads account is your ads can rank higher in search results than under your Google Grants Account. Under the Google Grants program, ads in a free Google Grants account will appear beneath any paid ads. With paid ads, you can ensure that your ads appear at the top of the page.

How to Track Google Grants Conversions and Google Ad Results

You advertise to get results, so how can you make sure that things are pointed in the right direction? The way to do this is to have detailed conversion tracking. Conversion tracking allows you to have important metrics about how traffic is driven to your website and how it interacts with the pages on your website. With conversion tracking set up, you can find out how your ads lead people to take action, such as:

  • Calling the organization
  • Submitting a contact form
  • Making a donation
  • Signing up for your mailing list

Nonprofits need to set up conversions in Google Analytics for each key action that they want to keep track of and then create conversion goals for each action. Once conversions are set up in Google Analytics, then you can then use them in Google Ads.

An example of Google Analytics for nonprofits featuring data for Nonprofit Tech for Good.

How To Use Google Grants Effectively

Make sure that you are using the full Google Grant amount. Most nonprofits do not utilize anywhere near their full ad allocation and this is in effect wasting money. It takes a lot of time each month to make sure the Google Ads account is as optimized as it can be. To be fully optimized, it also takes an individual or a firm who has experience with both Google Grants and Google Ads.

You will also want to make sure that you define your audience effectively and only relevant show ads. There are many ways to define an audience, such as geotargeting and modifying search keywords and negative keywords for your ads.

You will also want to make sure your website is user-friendly and that it has adequate content about specific topics. Writing additional pages and blog posts is often a good idea to maximize SEM and SEO.

You should continue to make changes to your ad campaigns and evaluate how these changes improve the effectiveness of your ads. Ideally, you should conduct A/B tests where you change minor details of your campaign, such as ad text, and then try to test different wording or settings to see which is most effective. You can also use A/B tests to determine the effectiveness of different landing pages.

In Google Analytics you can also learn about those that visit your website from Google Ads as well as organic traffic. Google Analytics provides demographic information and other important insights about your site visitors. Another tool that can be useful is Google Data Studio which can be used to sort through data and create reports.

It can be a challenge for a nonprofit to manage Google Grants effectively due to a lack of Google expertise, a lack of staff, or a lack of time available to devote to managing the account. It often makes sense to bring in a Google Grants Expert to manage your Google Grants account. If Google Ads are too much to handle in-house, it is worthwhile to reach out to a firm that specializes in Google Grant acquisition and management for nonprofits.

About the Author

Stephen Urich is the CEO of Grant Republic – a firm specializing in Google Grant acquisition and management and Google Ads management for nonprofits.  Stephen Urich has 20 years in the nonprofit sector and has been the Executive Director of a few nonprofits and the CEO of other firms that specialized in assisting nonprofits such as Labyrinth, Inc.

The Ultimate Guide to Google Ad Grants for Nonprofits: 2022 Edition