Google Grant Program - The Definitive AdWords Guide for Nonprofits

What is the Google Ad Grants Program for AdWords

The Google for Nonprofits AdWords grant program supports those changing the world for the better.

Google has amassed massive scale success with its AdWords advertising platform, pulling in an astonishing $75 billion in gross revenues for 2015, with a trend that is not slowing for 2016. As a way to use the AdWords platform for promoting nonprofit organizations and their causes, Google has provided the means for those with limited advertising budgets to do so. This is great news, especially for those who earned the status as a 501(c)3, and are either thinking about, or currently running the typical paid advertising accounts. The nonprofit grant allows an enrolled nonprofit organization to spend up to $10,000 per month of Google’s own money. Yes, that’s right, $10,000 per month, up to $120,000 per year!

But knowing about the program is only a small part of the battle. Let’s look at what it takes to qualify for the program.

Qualifications to Join the Google Ad Grants Program

To ensure these invaluable opportunities are available for qualifying nonprofit organizations, Google has stipulated the following requisites:

  1. Hold valid charity status as outlined for your country. The Google eligibility guidelines cover the requirements for all countries this program serves. This article will cover the requirements from a United States nonprofit perspective, which mandates holding a 501(c)(3) status, as determined by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.

  2. Acknowledging and agreeing to Google’s mandatory certifications regarding nondiscrimination and donation receipt and use when submitting the application.

  3. Having a live and active website with substantial content.

  4. To begin, you will need to start the Google for Nonprofits application.

Additional notes about what is and is not a qualifying nonprofit organization denotes that governmental entities and organizations, hospitals, medical groups, schools, childcare centers, academic institutions and universities are not eligible for the program. However, philanthropic arms of educational institutions may be eligible. This list is not comprehensive and Google may choose to extend or reduce the scope of organizations able to apply for the nonprofit grant program. Google “reserves the right to grant or deny an organization’s application or participation at any time, for any reason, and to supplement or amend these eligibility guidelines at any time.”

Tier 1 Google Ad Grants Program for AdWords

As difficult as it is to compete in the typical paid advertising AdWords account, the nonprofit grants program further hinders an account’s ability to perform by implementing limitations. Because of these limitations, greater vigilance and creative methodologies come into play when crafting a game plan to take advantage of the program.

If the nonprofit ad grant program were as robust and optimizable as a paid account, no nonprofit would ever consider doing a paid account. However, this is not the case and it does warrant considerations if the loss in control of account management outweighs the value of saving precious advertising budget.

Limitations of the Google Ad Grants Program for AdWords

The nonprofit program limits the account in several ways from the maximum amount you are willing to bid for an ad impression, the daily budget, the types of campaign formats you can advertise on and the types of products or promotions you can market.

Frustrated by the Google Ad Grant Program? You're not alone.

The Maximum Cost per Click (CPC) Bid

The nonprofit program limits the maximum cost per click (CPC) bid to a $2 ceiling. If you are unfamiliar, the AdWords advertising platform works like an auction house. Multiple individuals compete on what they are willing to pay to outbid the others. In like fashion, the maximum price you are willing to spend to show your ad to a user is the maximum CPC. When that bid is severely limited, this means your ability to compete is severely hampered. If one nonprofit, “Vehicles for Veterans” (VfV) using the grant program bids its maximum $2 CPC while other nonprofit competitors such as “Cars for Corpsmen” (CfC) who have the budget to use a paid AdWords account can bid much higher than $2, outranking the VfV nonprofit every time. This leads to underperformance for VfV, few or no clicks, and ultimately no appreciable use of Google’s grant money.

The key workaround to the bid limitations involve manipulating the three key components to the AdWords quality score, a multiplier to the AdWords bid that ultimately determines an ad’s position in the search results. The three components are expected click-through rate (CTR), ad relevance, and landing page experience. The click-through rate is the hardest hit by a keyword bid ceiling. By bidding lower, it is assumed the ad will be outbid and rank lower in the search results, leading to a declined likelihood for a user to see and choose to click on that ad.

Expected Click-Through Rate (CTR), Ad Relevancy (Ad Copy) and Landing Page Experience make up Quality Score (QS)

Improving Click-Through Rate when Bids are Capped

A crucial way to increase click-through rate is to take advantage of as many relevant ad extensions as possible. Ad extensions are additional pieces of valuable information that are eligible to show in addition to the standard text ad. Ad extensions all non-profits should use include sitelink, structured snippet, and callout extensions. These three ad extension types add additional pieces of information without being dependent on a non-profit’s capabilities, such as being able or willing to accept phone calls from a call extension or app downloads if an app exists.

Another way to improve the expected click-through rate is to target more long-tailed, specific keywords that are less competitive, and more specific to how a relevant user searches. Over time, the goal of an AdWords account is to acquire and add hundreds or thousands of these long specific queries that the average advertiser could not anticipate in advance such as “how to donate my vehicle for veterans in kansas”.

While these highly specific searches are likely to have more than a small handful of clicks, in conjunction, thousands of these keywords could warrant thousands upon thousands of impressions and potential clicks, all proven to be extremely relevant. That relevancy improves the expected click-through-rate, requiring lower bids than a short, more common search query.

With time a persistent constraint, a dynamic search ads campaign (DSA) may be worth investigating. With a quick setup, Google automatically matches the content of the pages of your website you wish to advertise for with its algorithm for organic relevance, and shows dynamically generated headlines of that landing page.

By letting Google do the work, less time is needed, more relevancy is created (as Google is ultimately the creator of the ad and decider of the quality score of said ad), and also provides insights into how to curate future ads in the account by understanding Google’s judging process. To learn more read the Dynamic Search Ads article.

Ad Relevance and Quality Score

A non-profit also needs to be mindful of the relevancy of an ad. Continuing to refine the granularity of tightly themed keywords in ad groups and campaigns will improve the likelihood the ad associated with those keywords is what a user expects and is encouraged to click on. By limiting the keywords in an ad group to no more than a 10-15 keywords that are similar and focus on a specific page of the website or service offered, keeps the relevancy aligned with the ad itself.

Keeping in mind a user’s likely problems that led to a search, the ad copy should answer the consumer’s issue with a specific solution and a call to action (CTA) to find need satiety. For example, a user that cares greatly about the impending senior care crisis, wishes to provide a contribution to a worthy national foundation.

By calling attention to the cause, and the non-profit foundation’s addressing of a specific issue, such as providing in-home senior care to low-income, high-risk seniors. Providing the solution this consumer is seeking, paired with a call to action such as “donate now” and encouragement to follow a United States map that updates in real time as seniors needs are met, is a great way to elicit the response that bridges the gap between desire and action.

Landing Page Experience and Quality Score


This third piece of the Quality Score (QS) puzzle ties the other variables together by sending users to a highly relevant, user friendly webpage. By keeping the keywords tightly themed to address ad relevancy, the keywords are also more likely to be related to the landing page users are sent to upon clicking on the ad headline.

A responsive website that is user friendly on a mobile or tablet device is also crucial to this quality score metric. If users get frustrated and bounce from the landing page without engaging, this leads to a high bounce rate and lower landing page experience, increasing the bid necessary to rank higher in search results.

Quality example of a responsive landing page on desktop, tablet and mobile devices

The Daily Budget Constraint - Advertising on Limited Spend

The Account is Suffering from Budget Constraints

For most non-profit accounts, generating enough click traffic to warrant worry about a maximum daily budget of $329 is the least of their worries. But let’s assume that after applying the principles and best practices outlined in the maximum cost per click bid section above and clicks have been happening in droves. Daily budget is suddenly a big concern as it is being met early in the day, leaving the account shut off for the rest of the day from generating further impressions and clicks.

The first step to addressing a budget constraint is analyzing where the majority of the spend is occurring. If it happening in a specific campaign or a few select ad groups, adjusting bids for the ad groups or maxing a budget lower than $329 for that campaign will help reduce total spend.

If it is happening across the board analyze when and where the spend is happening. Maybe specific geographical locations are sucking the budget dry. Turning off those locations can quickly address this issue. It will be addressed in the next section, but keep in mind geographical bid modifications do not exist in a non-profit Google Grant AdWords account; an advertiser can only choose to advertise in that location or not.

Careful of time variables in AdWords using up precious budget 

Specific times of day may also be an issue. Advertisers are likely to browse but not act on their searches in the early morning and lunchtime during work, wasting precious budget without much, if any, return on the investment. Bidding down on these time frames or turning the account off will help address this.


The Budget is not being fully used

Another problem with the budget is not being able to use it all. As the old adage goes, “if you don’t use it, you lose it”, and it is absolutely true in the case of the Google Grant account. Remember, the account can spend up to $10,000 a month of Google’s dollars, so any not spent is wasted opportunity on the non-profits part.

Selecting the accelerated variable in the campaign can help generate more impressions by speeding up how often ads are shown to searchers. Continuing to add more keywords and targeting more pages of content on the website with dynamic search ads also will increase the market share potential and lead to more impressions and more clicks.

Using a shared budget among all the accounts, the non-profit advertiser can ensure that what is not spent in one campaign of the account, could be utilized elsewhere. If you are unfamiliar, read the How-To Series article on setting up shared budgets.

Shared budgets spread a set budget among the campaigns selected for this option. Instead of 3 campaigns with budgets of $329 / 3 = about $110 each, the 3 campaigns share the pooled $329 resource, and what one does not and cannot spend, the others can help to pick up the slack.

Also, keep in mind that Google’s budget is a daily factor, but averages out to 30.4 (average number of days in a month), so days that underspend the budget, could spend up to 120% of it on days when budget is exceeded. This is especially helpful if weekdays generate more traffic than weekends.

Limitations on AdWords Advertising Formats and Channels

Google is in the business to make a profit, so its philanthropic AdWords grant program, while generous, is only meant to be so useful. The grant program only allows for search advertising to take place. A nonprofit that wishes to share their message through more engaging mediums such as video on YouTube, banner ads on the Google Display Network (GDN) and shopping ads for their products which help to, in part fund some nonprofits are all unavailable.

Google Grant Program limitations for Nonprofit advertisers

Nonprofits who wish to consider these advertising channels are unfortunately confined to opening a regular AdWords account that is paid out of the advertiser’s pockets. However, keep in mind that an effectively run Google AdWords grant account, which saves the nonprofit precious advertising dollars and potentially cultivates awareness for the cause and leads to contributions and other means of support, could help to fund the out of pocket costs of another account that disseminates the message via the other available channels.

Products or Promotional Limitations of Google Grant Program

The Google AdWords Grant Program is intended to support worthy causes that are seeking to do much good in the world, whether locally, nationally, or around the world. The tremendous value that is produced from an up to $10,000 in additional advertising budget can go far in the nonprofit world. But that Google money is not intended to be a catalyst for advertising a nonprofit as if it were a business, to tell products or services.

The Google grant program is explicit in its limitations that a nonprofit enrolled in the program cannot run its advertising account solely to solicit and sell products or services. For example, a religious organization that runs a nonprofit account cannot use the account to sell books written by the organization only. The intent of the program is to increase awareness of a worthy cause, to solicit charitable donations and philanthropic contributions, but not to become an ecommerce transactional arm.

Purpose of Google Grants program is to raise awareness and contributions - not promote products or services!

While an advertiser may get away with this with a Tier 1 grant program, the ultimate goal of the savvy nonprofit advertiser knows that upon meeting the requisites, there exists a Tier 2 grant program that extends the Google dollars from the already admirable $10,000 per month to an unbelievable $40,000 per month. This comes out to just shy of a possible $480,000 in Google money available for Tier 2 grant program enrollees.

In order to enter into this program one caveat is that the advertising dollars not be used to sell products or services as a standard business would. We will explore how to qualify for a Tier 2 program and best practices to use up this generous $40,000 in potential advertising dollars in a future article. Stay tuned.

Summing it All Up: How to Get Ahead as a Nonprofit AdWords Grant Program Enrollee

There is a lot to know to be a successful AdWords account manager. The stipulations and restraints presented by the Google grant program further complicates the strategies required and best practices tested by time and experience to both be effective in generating valuable awareness and much needed donations, but also to keep in mind and work toward spending the $10,000 of available Google dollars in order to work toward a Tier 2 grant program.

Keep in mind that the program only allows for search campaigns. Take advantage of the dynamic search ads campaign, especially if your website has a lot of pages of content. Ensure that your ads remain relevant and of high quality, with tightly themed keywords and a quality landing page experience for those who click, in order to combat the $2 cost per click (CPC) max bid imposed on nonprofit advertisers.

Use shared budgets so that campaigns work together to use up the average daily budget of $329. Accelerate the campaign or campaigns’ budgets to use up these precious dollars, or lower budgets on campaigns that are constraining budgets.

If a nonprofit wants to take advantage of the powerful mediums to tell their stories then use the savings generated from not advertising out of pocket in the grant program, along with the contributions solicited, to fund a out of pocket AdWords account to run display campaigns that showcase your message with banners, as well as video ads that tell your story beautifully on the Youtube platform.

Good luck spending Google’s dollars. We look forward to your nonprofit’s work making the world a better place, one day at a time.

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