Google AdWords via Google Ad Grants: A must-have for nonprofits

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By Scott Swanson

It’s tough out there for a nonprofit. Public funding is dwindling. There are too many organizations competing for too little money. Keeping the doors open can be hard enough, let alone getting the message out about the great work you do.

That’s why the vast majority of nonprofits should be using Google Ad Grants to drive traffic to their websites and, in turn, support their storytelling and strategic fundraising efforts. We’ve seen clients receive thousands of website hits per month using Google Ad Grants (formerly called simply Google Grants). I’ve watched the analytics closely — it works.

By the way, if you’re not a nonprofit, head over to this post for tips on how any business or organization can set up an effective AdWords campaign.

How the Google Ad Grants Program Works

Google Ad Grants is a program that provides $10,000 every month in free advertising to 501(c)(3)s through Google’s AdWords platform.

You know when you search for something on Google and you see a promoted link at the top of the search page? That’s an AdWords ad.

Here’s an example of an ad we placed for a client. Note that it’s the very first result at the top of the page:

summer camp

Even if you’re a paying customer, AdWords are very cost-effective, because you only pay when someone clicks on the ad. But if you’re a nonprofit signed up for the Google Ad Grants program, you’re basically playing with house money. Too good to be true, right?

What’s the Catch?

Usually, if something looks too good to be true, there are serious downsides. In this case, there are a few catches — but they’re relatively minor catches:

  • Bid caps
  • Search Network restrictions

Bid Caps

First, you’re capped at how much you can bid for a keyword. Here’s how AdWords works through both Google Ad Grants for nonprofits and for paying clients: All advertisers who want their ads to show for a certain search term (like “journalism summer camp” above) are placed into an auction. Google determines which ads get priority based on several factors, including relevancy, the quality of your landing page, and your maximum bid. Because of the bid cap, Google Ad Grant participants will never be able to compete with the high-rollers — the paying clients with big budgets — on certain keywords in certain markets.

That said, once you have a deep understanding of the AdWords process, there are creative ways to maximize your reach, even with the bid cap.

Search Network

One other drawback — you can only advertise on Google search result pages. Paying customers can have their ads shown on the Google Display Network — thousands of news sites, blogs and other niche sites across the internet.

Really, these are small quibbles for a program that empowers nonprofits to spread their mission and message on the most visited website in the universe. Of course, your results will depend on a lot of factors — your industry, your timing, the quality of your website, and so on — but we’ve seen clients get thousands of hits every month without having to implement a paid digital campaign. That’s impressive.

Any Other Catches? 

As part of what I do for clients, I see first-hand how effective strategic — and meticulous — use of Google Ad Grants can be for a nonprofit. But there is one more catch, and it has nothing to do with the program itself. Google has a specific definition for the types of nonprofits that qualify. These organizations do not qualify:

  • Governmental entities and organizations
  • Hospitals and medical groups
  • Schools and childcare centers
  • Academic institutions and universities

 Getting Assistance

There are two ways to execute a Google AdWords campaign using Google Ad Grants. If your nonprofit has the internal resources, you can have an in-house staffer start the application process and set up campaigns. Know that as a platform, AdWords does require a lot of upkeep and maintenance — you have to pay close attention to how well your ads and keywords are performing. The DIY option works for well-resources organizations with the right staff.

If your organization can’t spare the staff time, agencies, like ours, who have an AdWords-certified team member will work with you to craft the strategy and then completely handle the execution.

Moonsail North loves being able to offer a starter Google Ad Grants Partnership Package:

  • Moonsail North will shepherd your organization through the application process for free to maximize your chance of approval. If your application is denied, we won’t charge you.
  • An AdWords-certified Moonsail North partner will work with you to launch your account and create up to three separate ad groups – this will allow you to highlight up to three different services you offer, or three different messages you want to get out.
  • We’ll develop a list of up to 10 keywords for each ad group that will help you target high-value customers.
  • We will craft ad copy for up to two ads for each ad group – AdWords rotates the ads to determine which performs better.
  • You will receive detailed monthly reports outlining your AdWords performance.

Ready to take your online marketing to the next level? Drop me a line at or tackle the DIY approach. Either way, congratulations on utilizing an under-utilized tool for nonprofits!