How to make the most of your Google Grant as a small nonprofit

If you work at a small nonprofit, the most important thing to know is that you are capable of being even more successful than a large nonprofit when using Google Grants. This is because everyone gets the same amount (except for legacy GrantsPro accounts) of money to spend on the platform, regardless of number of employees or annual revenue of the organization.

Doing things right will help you leapfrog much larger organizations in the Google listings with far less effort than it would take to do this with SEO tactics. Put another way, it is easier to design good advertisements with Google Grants to rank above a competitor than it is to do the link-building work to rank above a very large organization who is already miles ahead of you in their SEO program.

However, even with this huge opportunity, many in-house managers of Google Grants accounts face a time-crunch with everything else on their plates. Their organization can’t afford to hire a PPC (pay per click) vendor to do this work or to allow them to dedicate more hours to it. So here are some tips on what to make time for with the little time you have.

Weekly compliance checks

You should check your account weekly. During that check, you should prioritize compliance rules. You can make that easier on yourself by placing compliance data prominently in your dashboard.

If you manage the account yourself, you must read the compliance rules yourself. Blogs are great because they are written by people who really want to make it understandable. However, they leave out details for the sake of simplifying things for the reader. But often those omitted details are essential to keeping your account compliant!

When your account is examined for compliance, it will not be sufficient to understand the big picture. You must adhere to the small-picture technical checks. Google won’t be holding your hand through this. They won’t call to you to ask how you’re doing and if you’re happy with the rules they created. The Google Grants team doesn’t even have a publicly listed number for you to call them, and the generalist customer services reps aren’t well versed in the Google Grants rules.

Instead, what will happen is that a machine will make a check. If something is in error, you’ll likely get suspended. It’s then on you to get the account reinstated. Requesting reinstatement is possible, but it’s better to keep your account compliant and active than to get suspended and come back to Google, hat in hand, asking for forgiveness and reinstatement.

Get your spend up

Spend that money. You get a daily allotment of $329 and it is use it or lose it. I cannot believe the number of people who I’ve talked to who tell me that they don’t need any help managing the grant because they already received it, but are actually spending 1% of what they could. That means they are missing out on 99% of their possible web traffic. Further, this grant can only be documented as an in-kind donation based on the quantity that is used. Your boss is likely much happier seeing $7,000 a month in in-kind donations to add to the accounting books compared to $70.

I’ll be the first to admit that spending the maximum amount is much harder with the 2018 rules. But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing. And this complacency with low spend amount has existed since the program’s beginning, before the rules complicated things.

I encourage you to create more campaigns to increase your spending. Many nonprofits with self-managed accounts only send people to one or two pages on their website. Even if something is a lower priority initiative, if you have a landing page dedicated to it with relevant search terms that don’t conflict with something of higher priority, you can only benefit by building a campaign around it.

It’s very odd that a Google Grants account is visually identical to the paid version and contains no additional features (though it has a few less), yet my game plan is radically different than it would be if I was doing AdWords work for a for-profit. The major reason for this is that “use it or lose it” allotment. Most PPC vendors have to be very careful about spending their client’s money and won’t do so unless they have a high degree of confidence in an ROI. I do the opposite. If there’s any chance something will be successful, I do it as long as it’s within the compliance rules, because it’s better than not spending the in-kind money at all.

Going forward

Though my checklist for building up a client’s account is over 100 tasks, it breaks down into four phases based on level of importance.

The first two are those that I’ve just covered: compliance and spending. The third is to make better web traffic go to pages that are more important. This is done in a variety of ways, such as lowering the budgets of low-priority campaigns and targeting to fewer locations. The fourth is to do the work to improve conversions, like using more specific match types for the keywords.

Fight for more resources

This is a starting point in handling the immediate, but I strongly recommend you fight for more resources, whether that is in the form of more hours for you to dedicate to it or outside help. I get that many nonprofits want to reduce overhead spending to dedicate more money to programs, but this is an important tool.

More than anything, it’s important because it very cheaply helps your website get seen by those who don’t know who you are but are looking for something relevant to your organization. I’m shocked by how many resources go toward a nonprofit’s website, both in hiring vendors to build the website as well as staff time to review the work and add additional pages. However, these same nonprofits are unwilling to do only a little bit extra to make the website found by more people. While the work of Google Grants is invisible and complicated, it’s just as important as the immediate visual aspect of your website, and shouldn’t be postponed.

Your website should not be treated like Isla de Muerta from Pirates of the Caribbean, found by those who already know where it is. You should treat your website as the foundation for your digital marketing program. Your unique status as a nonprofit gives you a huge upper hand in amplifying these pages—don’t want to waste this advantage.

Michael Rasko
Michael Rasko is a nonprofit marketing consultant who specializes in Google Grants, an online advertising program for nonprofits. He has been a volunteer, board member, and employee at nonprofits. He has been a guest speaker at NTEN's Nonprofit Technology Conference.