Free Advertising for Nonprofits: Getting Started With Google Ad Grants

Free advertising for nonprofits

I don’t think there is a nonprofit in existence that hasn’t (at one point or another) had to worry about budgeting funds for advertising. For many nonprofits, it’s the first thing to go when the budget gets tight. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, organizations of all sizes have already jumped on the opportunity to get $10,000 in free advertising for nonprofits every month — for free, like really free.

Google Ad Grants are a great way to gain some advertising funds to get your nonprofit’s name and the great things you do out into your community and the world.

Ad Grants for Beginners

In a nutshell, a Google Ad Grant is an AdWords account with a $10,000 cap. AdWords lets you create text-based ads (no images or videos can be included) and associate them with different keywords. Other types of campaigns let you target based on things like audience or device, but Ad Grants are set to target keywords.

When someone searches for a keyword you’ve chosen on Google, your ad could appear above or below the organic search results for that phrase. I say “could appear” because AdWords operates on a bidding system. The maximum bid you can place on any given keyword will be $2. So if the minimum bid is higher than that (usually due to its popularity), your ad won’t be shown for that particular keyword. But when the minimum bid is less than $2, your ads will appear below the paying ads that are included for any particular keyword phrase.

Check out the screenshot to see how it plays out in real life. I did a Google search for the keyword “exercises for scoliosis treatment” and got the below results. The first two results are paid advertisements, but the third is an ad for a nonprofit through Ad Grants. The organic results appear below the three ads. Although, depending on the keyword, sometimes the ads will appear below the organic results or there’ll only be one or two ads that show up instead of the full three shown in the example.

Free advertising for nonprofits

Benefits of Free Advertising for Nonprofits

By setting up an AdWords account, you’ll see all sorts of benefits. In addition to boosting brand awareness, you’ll be able to reach new supporters in your target audience and access new kinds of marketing data:

  • Your website will get additional visibility — meaning a spike in traffic and (depending on the content of your ads) more donations, volunteers or services rendered.
  • You’ll be able to attract visitors at the exact moment they look (search) for you.
  • You can connect your AdWords account to Google Analytics and see conversions (how many people clicked on your ad or took the action you were hoping they’d take). You can then work to improve your ads based on data insights.
  • You can set your ad to target your local community or the world (or a piece of each). It’s up to you and who you think would be most interested.

Read our guide to find more ways to increase traffic to your nonprofit website >

Eligible Nonprofits

You may be thinking to yourself that this is too good to be true, that there’s no way you’ll qualify for $10,000 a month in free advertising for nonprofits. Stop being so cynical! Google works with more than 20,000 nonprofits in more than 50 countries. Any nonprofit that holds a valid nonprofit status in their country and has a live website with a good amount of content on it is eligible. There are a few exceptions to that rule, including government organizations, hospitals, childcare centers and academic institutions.

How to Set It Up

Ad Grants is part of the Google for Nonprofits program. You’ll need to apply for that program and be verified as an eligible nonprofit before you can set up your AdWords account. Once your account is approved, you can then enroll in Ad Grants. Google offers lots of support along the way, plus the following steps to get your nonprofit started in Google Ad Grants.

  • Apply for an Ad Grants from your Google Admin dashboard
  • Create your Account (either in AdWords or AdWords Express)
  • Set up your first campaign — write an ad (or two) and add keyword phrases
  • Submit your account for review
  • Maintain your account (at least monthly but it’s great to get in there more often)

In case you’re not sure whether to choose AdWords or AdWords Express, or what the difference between the two is, AdWords Express is a simpler, more automatized version of AdWords. It’s meant for those of you nonprofit marketers without much time to devote to AdWords.

Maintaining Your AdWords Account

As a heads up, AdWords can be fairly time consuming, just like any advertising project. To see a big difference in your traffic, you’ll likely need to devote a few hours each month to fine-tuning your account. That could mean looking over the analytics and adding or updating the ads, swapping out or adding keywords, or breaking keywords out into their own ad groups and writing new ads to target those new ad groups.

There’s most definitely a learning curve with AdWords. It helps to have some experience with search engine optimization and the guiding principles behind it, but it’s not necessary. For example, researching possible keywords to see if they present any opportunity before adding them to a campaign could make a big difference, but you don’t need to research those words for the campaign to run. It’s possible to see some success using a trial and error method. Try it out for yourself! If you can see the possibilities in free advertising for nonprofits but need some additional support to keep your account in good shape, you can always ask for help down the road.

How does your nonprofit use Google Ad Grants? Have you seen your website traffic increase because of free advertising for nonprofits? We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments.


**UPDATE: Since publishing this post, Google has made changes to its Ad Grant policies. Before you get started with AdWords, explore what’s new with the program. Depending on how much time you have to manage your account, AdWords Express could be a better fit for your nonprofit.

Christine Soucy is one of the content writers at Wired Impact. She spends most of her day reading and writing about nonprofits and how they can improve their online presence.

18 Comments on “Free Advertising for Nonprofits: Getting Started With Google Ad Grants

  1. 1 Aleem Khan January 11, 2017

    Indira Welfare Education Society running Indira Shanti Niketan Upper Primary School, recognized by Maharashtra Government, self-finance basis ( we are not getting any grant or finance from Govt.) and there is no school surrounding 7- 8 kms. We provided free, holistic, value based education to underprivileged children in Govindgad village, (Mhasala), Nagpur district, Maharashtra, India.

    Educational initiatives include Pre-school [3-6 yrs], Non Formal Education [6-14 yrs non-school going].It works for education for needy children who are under difficult circumstances, such as child labour, children of poorest of the parents. Street and slum children. Special emphasis is given on girl education, so that they and their families get empowered.

    Our humble Prayer: I beg to request your kind honor Sir/Madam, If possible . Please help our impoverish girls, children one time nutrition (Mid-day meal) of our School’s children. Because of they can’t get a proper foods and in our rural slum areas people to earn money and work again for money. But basic need are not completed and even when our teachers taking meal this poverty schools’ children always looking for food.

    For Indian Tax Payers:
    U/S 80G of the IT Act up to 50% of your donation is deductible.

    1. 2 Christine Soucy January 12, 2017

      Hi, Aleem. It sounds like your school is doing some really important work. Unfortunately, schools, childcare centers and academic institutions are most often not eligible for Google Ad Grants. Check out their eligibility requirements to learn more. Best of luck!

  2. 3 Maria E. Kistler January 11, 2017

    How did you determine that the 3rd ad used GOOGLE grant?

    1. 4 Christine Soucy January 12, 2017

      Great question, Maria! As part of our traffic growth engagements, we help set up and manage Google Ad Grants for our clients. The 3rd ad is one that we helped put together using Google Ad Grants. Another way to tell the difference, though not foolproof by any means, is to see where the ad sends you. Google ads leading to nonprofit websites are often making good use of Google Ad Grants.

  3. 5 anxious January 12, 2017

    it’s my first time i donot understand eg grants i need your help thanx.

    1. 6 Christine Soucy January 12, 2017

      Thanks for commenting! Google Ad Grants are an awesome marketing resource for nonprofits around the world. Before you can get started, read through their eligibility requirements to make sure your nonprofit meets them all. If so, you’re ready to follow the steps outlined in the “How to Set It Up” section in the post above. If you’re still finding yourself confused, you can reach out to Google support to walk you through the process. I hope that helps. Best of luck!

  4. 7 James January 12, 2017

    Hi there,
    We are a charity organization in Uganda that supports AIDS children to take them to school and also care for them together with the most disadvantaged children in rural Uganda.
    We would like to be part of the Google Ad Grants program. Unfortunately, our country is not among the eligible countries for this program.
    Is there any opportunity you can offer to our organization to start advertising on Google?

    Thank you and be blessed.

    1. 8 Christine Soucy January 16, 2017

      Hi, James. As far as the grants go, there’s not much you can do if your country isn’t eligible. However, if you’d still like to advertise on the search engine, Google AdWords (the paid version) is your best bet. It’s a pay-per-click advertising tool, meaning your organization would only be charged when someone clicks on one of your ads. Good luck!

  5. 9 Iris Mullan January 17, 2017

    Do you have any idea when they’ll reopen the $40,000 level program?

    1. 10 Christine Soucy January 18, 2017

      Hi, Iris. It looks like Grantspro is winding down in order to streamline the whole Google Ad Grants program. They’ve placed a permanent hold on Grantspro applications, but the $10,000 level Ad Grants program is still open and accepting applications.

  6. 11 Breanna January 19, 2017

    Can you please elaborate more on the bidding system please? Is there a portion of this program that we have to pay for?

    1. 12 Christine Soucy January 19, 2017

      Hi, Breanna. Once your organization is approved for Google Ad Grants, there are no fees or charges for your ads. You won’t even need to input your payment information. Because the Ad Grants program operates within Google AdWords (a paid advertising program with a bidding system), you’ll need to set bids for your Ad Grants ads to work within AdWords. The money those ads would ordinarily cost (to an organization without a grant) will be taken from your $10,000 monthly allowance.

      As a stipulation of the Ad Grants program, you won’t be able to spend more than $2.00 on any bid. Once the bid goes over $2.00, your ad will no longer be shown for that particular keyword. I hope that explanation helps. Good luck!

  7. 13 Initiative For Human Capacity Buildings And Infrastructural Development February 3, 2017

    please assist us to be advertised on the google ad grant, we have an upcoming programme titled community sensitisation on sickle cell disease prevention on march 3rd 2017 in nigeria.

    1. 14 Christine Soucy February 3, 2017

      Thanks for commenting! Unfortunately, if your nonprofit is based in Nigeria, you won’t be eligible for a grant. Check out Google’s list of eligible countries for more information. If you’re based somewhere else and that country is on the list, you’ll just need to follow the steps outlined in the post to apply. Good luck!

  8. 15 Gauhar Ali February 7, 2017

    i am working in an organization providing legal aid and shelter to oppressed people of the society, also working on human trafficking and human rights, basically they are helping all over the globe but most of their work can be seen in Pakistan, India, UAE, KSA and USA, the organization is registered as Section 501(c)(3) Organizations in USA, the organization is also registered at techsoupGlobal at USA and techSoupDotOrg for Pakistan. i had apply for Google nonprofit and they reject my application within few hours. can you please guide me whats the reason of rejection or why should i reapply so i my application get accepted?

    1. 16 Christine Soucy February 8, 2017

      Hi, Gauhar. Without seeing your application, it’s tough for me to determine why it may have been rejected. I’d recommend hopping on the phone with Google support and talking through your application with them. They should be able to give you some insight on why it was rejected and what you’ll need to fix when you apply again. Best of luck!

  9. 17 Alex Atuheire March 28, 2018

    Hello,
    My name is Alex Atuheire, the CEO and Founder of Amatsiko Organisation http://www.amatsiko.org , a community based organisation operating in Uganda, helping orphans and vulnerable children. Amatsiko Organisation works with different school in South Western Uganda by teaching and empowering them. In 2013, Amatsiko Organisation started a community school and currently there are 120 children who attend school at Amatsiko Preparatory School. The school provides free education and meals for 120 under-privileged children as well as board for 20 children and the rest stay with recognized guardians, but are supervised by Amatsiko staff.
    Very few of the children in Uganda get a chance to go to school. However, at Amatsiko, we aim to bring hope to the hopeless ones, by enrolling orphans, vulnerable and abandoned children into school. Most of these children have lost their parents due to HIV virus.
    In a way to reduce malnutrition cases in our children and to get enough food to eat, we sensitize communities and teach them how to make kitchen gardens and school gardens, as well as, how to protect the environment by introducing bee keeping projects in communities.

    I just wanted to know if we can be helped and be part of this!

    1. 18 Christine Soucy March 29, 2018

      Hi, Alex. It sounds like your nonprofit is doing some really great work. Unfortunately, if you’re based in Uganda, you won’t be eligible for a grant. Check out Google’s list of eligible countries for more information. If you’re based somewhere else and that country is on the list, you’ll just need to follow the steps outlined in the post to apply. Best of luck!

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