Google Grants – Targeted Ads for Nonprofits

Google Grants

Marketing dollars can be tough to come by in many nonprofits.  But what if there was a way to get a $10,000 donation earmarked for advertising sent to your nonprofit each month?  And furthermore, what if you could find a way to use that money to only display ads to people that were somehow predisposed to be interested in your nonprofit’s mission?

Enter, Google Grants.

What are Google Grants?

The Google Grants program is designed to help nonprofits get their name and cause out into the world in a calculated way, focused on targeting people that may be interested in what your nonprofit is doing.  An accepted grantee will receive up to $10,000 a month in advertisements through Google AdWords.  These ads show up in the margins of most Google searches, shown outlined in red below.

Google Grants Search Results

How Does Google AdWords Work?

The whole philosophy behind AdWords is to offer a targeted approach to advertising.  Basically, you create simple, short text-only ads to target specific keyword phrases.  Then, when someone searches for one of your targeted keyword phrases, your ad comes up in the sections outlined above in red.  If they click your ad, they’re taken to the specific page that you’ve specified on your website.

Sounds simple, right?  Well, it’s actually a bit more involved.

While this post isn’t at all a full guide to using Google AdWords, there are a few aspects of AdWords that you’ll need to understand before putting together an ad campaign:

  • Keywords­: AdWords delivers targeted results based on the keywords that your nonprofit chooses.  Keywords are often phrases, like “volunteer opportunities in St. Louis.”  Although there is a 5 million keywords per account limit, the AdWords Help Center advises that 10-35 well-chosen, specific keywords can be just as effective.
  • Pay-Per-Click Advertising: Instead of paying Google every time your ad appears on the results screen, if you choose PPC ads you’ll only pay when someone actually clicks on your ad.  You only pay for people that are interested enough in your ad to visit your website.
  • Bidding: Where your ad ends up being displayed (whether it’s above the search results or off to the side and further towards bottom of the page) is determined by a combination of auction and quality factors.  Each organization sets a maximum bid they’re willing to pay, and a secret algorithm—in the typical Google fashion—considers both bids and “the quality of ads, keywords, and website” to determine the final display on the screen.

Why Is Google Grants Good for Your Nonprofit?

A Google Grant is not just free money for your advertising budget, although that might be incentive enough.  Aside from the $10,000 per month, Google Grants offer several other great benefits:

  • Increased Exposure:  Google Grants offers an open door into the world of online advertising, allowing your nonprofit to develop its online presence, to drive more traffic to the website, to reach, inform, and engage more people in more places.
  • More Targeted Advertising: Google AdWords are not incidental exposures like billboards next to a highway.  Because they are based on keyword searches, your nonprofit’s ads are shown to the people most likely to be interested since they’re already searching for keyword phrases related to what you do.
  • Can Be Largely Automated:  Not only does the grant allow you to potentially reallocate some marketing funds back into your cause, but once your AdWords campaign is set up much of it can be automated allowing you to reallocate personnel as well.  Although it does require a lot of time (especially initially) to set up and optimize your campaign.
  • Many Valuable Tools: The vast network of tools AdWords offers can be a valuable asset to other marketing projects.  Your nonprofit can apply what you learn from several different reports available on placement, demographics, reach & frequency, and view-through conversions available from AdWords to other social media and marketing plans.

Are There Any Drawbacks?

Does Google Grants sound too good to be true?  There are indeed some restrictions on grantees that Google’s paying AdWords customers get to avoid:

  • Spending Limit: There is a limit of about $10,000 a month ($330 a day).
  • Cost-Per-Click Limit: There is a $1.00 limit on cost-per-click (CPC) for grantees.  This means that your nonprofit’s maximum bid for ad space is $1.00.  As mentioned before, price is only one of the factors used to determine rank, but the CPC limit might leave your ads closer to the bottom of the screen (or on later pages) than you’d like.
  • Keywords Only:  Grantees must exclusively run keyword-targeted campaigns.  This means that the other targeting options (audience, location, language, device, contextual or placement targeting) are not available to your ad campaign.  However, your nonprofit can still see huge benefits by choosing your keywords carefully.
  • Can Take a While: The application process might take some time.  The folks at Google must first approve your nonprofit’s application for membership to Google for Nonprofits (see below), then consider a separate application for the Google Grants program.
  • Not a Perfect Fit for All Nonprofits: While Google Grants can be helpful to many organizations, its benefit is contingent on people actually searching for keyword phrases relevant to your cause.  Before jumping into Google Grants, it’s helpful to do some keyword research to see if the program is a good fit for your nonprofit.

Is Your Nonprofit Eligible?

In order to have access to Google Grants, you must be a member of Google for Nonprofits.  And, what do you need to join Google for Nonprofits?  The eligibility requirements are fairly simple.

  • Your nonprofit must be based in the U.S.  However, there are similar Google programs for other countries.
  • Your nonprofit must have 501(c)(3) status with the IRS.
  • A few types of organizations are not eligible for Google for Nonprofits:
    1. Governmental entities and organizations
    2. Hospitals and health care organizations
    3. Schools, childcare centers, academic institutions, and universities.  Such institutions should instead check out Google for Education.

The Google Grants program is just one of the products offered under the Google for Nonprofits umbrella.  There are other Google for Nonprofits Premium Products you may be interested in checking out.

You can review some of the commonly asked questions on the more hairy issues of eligibility at the Google for Nonprofits Help Center.

Overall, Google Grants can be a great opportunity to expand your nonprofit’s impact.  It offers funds to advertise the many ways you help your cause and to spread the word on how others can help too.  You can read testimonials from previous and current grantees to get more ideas on how to make Google Grants work for you.

Is your nonprofit considering applying for a Google Grant?  Have you already applied?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences!


Google Grants: SlideShare Presentation – TechSoup Canada

Image courtesy of Robert Scoble, Flickr