Tag: Google Grants

In prior articles about Google Ad Grants, I’ve primary shared technical advice, particularly in light of new compliance requirements. Yet for nonprofits that aren’t as familiar with Google Ads, there’s an opportunity to take a bigger picture view.

Google Ad Grants gives you up to $120,000 per year on the world’s largest advertising platform, which allows your organization to send users from Google’s search engine to your website when they search for a term that’s relevant to your cause.

Given this basic function, how can your nonprofit use this tool? Start by amplifying your strategic initiatives.

Mission-based goals

As a nonprofit, you exist to do some good in the world. And you need outreach to make your mission successful.

Children’s Eye Foundation uses Google Ad Grants to spread the word to parents that many eye conditions thought to be permanent can be treated if they’re caught early enough. With the Google Ads that link to this page on the foundation’s site, more people all over the world can learn how to treat their children’s eye conditions.

Volunteer, job, and board positions

Use a Google Ad Grants campaign for your open positions for volunteers, jobs, and board. The tool is especially useful for taking your job listings nationwide for people searching with terms like “nonprofit jobs” or “Membership job.”

Selling products or services

The most common use of Google Ads is to sell. To qualify for Ad Grants, Google requires that your nonprofit website be mission-focused, but they don’t ban commercial activity entirely. If you do sell products or services online, such as textbooks, set up ecommerce tracking in Google Analytics so that you can see the data on the web visits that lead to sales, and improve future sales by appropriately informing the maximize conversions bidding system.

Maximize Conversions Bidding is what Google calls a “smart bidding” strategy. Instead of setting a specific maximum that you’re willing to pay for a click, you instruct the machine to bid what it thinks is necessary to get more conversions (the desired action that you want a person to take, such as a purchase, an email list signup, or a contact form submission). Valid conversion tracking is mandatory for any accounts enrolled after January 1, 2018, for it to be compliant (older accounts were grandfathered in).

Online auctions

Similar to sales, Google Ad Grants can promote auction items. Creating a Google Ad Grants campaign for your auction item is the digital version of attracting more buyers in the auction hall. Getting more bidders in the game, particularly those who are searching for the item you have, will help you sell that item at a higher price.

Many nonprofits will sell one unique item as part of a fundraiser, such as a football signed by an NFL player.

This one is a bit tricky, since most people don’t often search for how to become members of a nonprofit. However, if there are member benefits to joining your organization, bid on Ad keywords related to the benefits your provide.

For example, a Friends of the Library keyword might be “discount books” and a member benefit would be 10% off at the store or an invitation to a members-only pre-sale.


“Things to do in NYC” gets searched 135,000 times a month. Take advantage of web traffic in your geographical area by promoting your events to generate more revenue.
Classes and videos

Another thing you can promote is a class, whether in-person or online. If your class isn’t behind a paywall, you can embed the video on your site and set up pre-roll ads for the video. Google has forbidden Grantees from using AdSense ads, but have not restricted video ads, at least at the time of this publication. If you do pre-roll ads, be sure to monitor compliance rule updates, as Google may take further steps in restricting other types of advertisements for Grantees.


A common misconception is that Google Ads are great for getting donations. Though you can and should build campaigns for your donation page, a better development strategy is to use Google Ad Grants to build your lead list and actively pursue those leads.

Those who access your site through Google Ad Grants are likely visiting for the first time. Expecting them to donate as a first-time visitor is the digital version of bumping into a stranger on the street, making small talk, and then asking them to support your nonprofit. If you’re looking to use digital marketing for fundraising, check out my recent article on Facebook’s Giving Tuesday promotion.

Go beyond these recommendations

Don’t feel limited by this list. If there’s a project or strategy unique to your nonprofit, go for it. Though there are a variety of circumstances that will affect your level of success, Google Ad Grant campaigns can be created to raise the visibility of any page on your website.

Though it varies by situation, I think that in most cases, sticking with AdWords Classic is the better bet. Here’s why.

Too much automation can lead you off track

The Classic version of AdWords can be a bit overwhelming because there are so many choices. However, those choices exist for a reason: they let you home in on reaching people who are important to you. And hiring a vendor or in-house staff person who understands Google Grants is worth the cost as their knowledge will help you deliver your ads to the right people. This is particularly true when it comes to keyword selection.

If you managed a Classic account prior to 2018, you may have gotten a taste of how the machine determines your appropriate keywords. For those who are unfamiliar, Classic accounts used to include keyword suggestions in their opportunities tab. They would often come in batches of as many as 25 suggestions for an Ad Group on a daily basis, for which you could pick and choose your favorites or add all of them in the batch.

These keywords that were decided by the machine weren’t very relevant to what was in the advertisement and landing page, but it was very convenient to be able to add so many in so few clicks. They may not add much per keyword, but they weren’t doing any harm.

Then Google radically changed their compliance rules, and those keywords started doing a lot of harm. All these keywords that were added due to the machine’s recommendation now made it harder to stay compliant because they had extremely low quality scores and click-through rates.

Given the lack of relevance for machine-generated keywords in the opportunities tab as recently as 2017, you should not expect the machine for AdWords Express would be more relevant in selecting keywords. For those who suspect that I’m making a big logical leap in comparing the opportunities tab in Classic with the automatic keyword selection in Express, I’m doing this as a comparison for those who only have exposure to the Classic version as it is something you’d be familiar with and remember from less than a year ago. But this same argument can be made when looking at the actual keyword selections of the machine in AdWords Express.

A few of my clients have come to me with Express accounts, asking that I change it to Classic and use my own judgments in selecting keywords that are right for them. I saw in their accounts that the keywords that the machine selected didn’t capture the nuance of what someone would type when looking for my clients’ programs.

One thing to keep in mind when you use AdWords Express is that you can turn off certain keywords, but you cannot add new ones. Those are added by the machine based on your business product or service. Further, you can’t decide how many keywords the machine will add. Because you cannot import the keywords you had in the Classic account to Express, switching to Express to bypass the new rules won’t let you perfectly replicate your 2017 pre-rule success.

When to make the switch to Express

However, I must recommend AdWords Express for one situation and one situation only: as a stopgap. For all its limitations, it has three very valuable features:

  1. It lets you bypass many compliance rules.
  2. It sends traffic to your website for free.
  3. It doesn’t preclude you from using a Classic account at a later date.

So if you are really struggling to stay compliant and you know that you can’t commit the time or money to it in the immediate, make the switch to AdWords Express as a stopgap. Having an Express account is far better than having a Classic account that has been suspended for several months with no end in sight.

I must emphasize that this should be a temporary measure. To make sure it is temporary, you should add reassessment tasks in your schedule. For a fiscal year that matches your calendar year, you should meet with stakeholders in July to discuss how to handle this problem, build a plan in August, and incorporate funding for the plan in the organization’s budget in September.

Without these deadlines, you likely won’t do it. And I’m not trying to be critical in saying that, just honest about what I’ve noticed in how people work. I have a set of unopened headphones that I could sell for $200 but they’re depreciating in my closet right now because this task has no deadline and I can always do it later. This is why many people who heard about Google Grants years ago have yet to do the work in looking into how to apply. However, this opportunity is too valuable to postpone indefinitely. I recommend you be better than me.

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.

In mid-December, while nonprofits were winding down for the holidays, Google Ad Grant account holders received an email. It announced that the $2 cap on the Maximise Conversions bidding strategy had been lifted. Well, that was a nice Christmas present. But did you read the new terms and conditions?

A whole raft of new rules came into effect on the January 1st of 2018, many of which carry the risk of temporary suspension of your account. Here are some of the new policies:

  • If your account’s click-through rate (CTR) drops below 5% for two consecutive months, it will be temporarily suspended.
  • Single word keywords are banned. There is a short list of exemptions.
  • Keywords must reflect your mission and not be generic.
  • Campaigns must be geo-targeted to relevant audiences. If your nonprofit serves only the people of Seattle, don’t target the whole country.
  • Keywords with a quality score of 1 or 2 are not allowed.
  • Each campaign must have at least two ad groups.
  • Your account needs at least two sitelinks.

There won’t be immediate suspensions. Instead, you’ll be sent warnings and given a date by which to make your account compliant. However, the first notifications are already appearing at the top of some Adwords accounts, so don’t delay too long before making the changes.

Google’s new focus is on quality

In June 2017 the Ad Grants team implemented a quality filter. Many accounts lost impressions, but saw a corresponding rise in CTR. Some, especially those with poorly designed websites, suffered a dramatic drop. There was no announcement, no email sent, and no notifications within Adwords to explain what was happening, leaving nonprofits wondering what they had done wrong.

This time around, account holders were sent an official email, but important new rules were hidden behind links to terms and conditions. Many Grant holders are still unaware that they have to get compliant. Those who know might not understand what they need to do. But the good news is that these changes are an effort by Google to improve the overall quality of nonprofits’ online advertising, and probably a good thing in the long term.

Happily, you no longer need to login at least 30 days, and make an edit every 90 days. Quality, not regularity, is the new focus.

If you use Adwords Express

Relax, these new rules don’t apply to you. The Ad Grants team stated that their aim is not to push nonprofits into using Adwords Express, but it’s a viable option if you don’t have the capacity to run a full Adwords account.

If you have a GrantsPro account

The $40,000 version of Ad Grants, now called Legacy GrantsPro, was closed to new applicants last year and is unlikely to come back.

If your GrantsPro account is deactivated, once reactivated it shouldn’t be downgraded. However, be doubly careful to stay on-mission with your choice of keywords. Some account holders, in order to maximize the bigger budget, padded out their accounts with generic and low CTR keywords.

The 5% solution

The policy likely to most worry account holders is the 5% average CTR rule, which now acts as an indicator of the overall quality of your account. It seems likely that the majority of accounts would currently fail to meet the standard. Fortunately this applies to your account as a whole, not individual campaigns or keywords. You are allowed to fall below 5% for one month, but not two consecutive months. Here are some practical tips:

  • Your first task should be to identify those keywords getting a lot of impressions but a low CTR and delete them. The further your CTR is hovering below 5%, the more keywords you need to cull.
  • Put your best performing keywords into Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGS). That technique can lead to great results, but is time-consuming to implement. Ads in those groups must contain the exact same keyword in the ad text.
  • Is the wording of your ads similar to the keywords that trigger them? If not, you are likely to get a low CTR, and also a low Quality Score which makes it less likely your ads will get shown.
  • Create an ad group tightly focused on your brand, with keywords including the name of your organization. That might seem wasteful since it competes with organic search results, but it will get a high CTR.
  • Don’t throw spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. Build your ad campaigns slowly and carefully; do more research to find out what your target audiences are looking for online; and match the language they use in searches.

It’s time to weed

Are your keywords too generic? For example “ebooks” and “job alerts” would be terrible keywords. because they entirely lack context. Are your keywords focused on your mission? If someone asked you what relevance a particular keyword had to what your organization does, could you justify your choice?

Adwords gives every keyword a Quality Score. If it’s 1 or 2 you must remove it (or you could opt to pause it).

You’re not allowed to use branded names you don’t own. Don’t use competitors’ names to hijack some of their traffic. What’s more problematic is if you’re working in partnership with other organizations or projects and have a legitimate reason to use them as keywords.

Your adverts could get a lot more competitive

Do you struggle to get impressions because your organization works in a competitive field where other advertisers can afford to bid much more? You are no longer limited to the Manual bidding strategy, where you specify a bid amount of $2. You can now use the Maximize Conversions bidding strategy, and the good news is that if Adwords thinks you’re worthy enough, your keywords can automatically bid well above $2. From my personal experience, approximately 8% of keywords bid over $2—enough to make it worthwhile.

The Maximize Conversions strategy is not suitable for campaigns getting few impressions or conversions. So don’t switch yet. First, check that goals are set up properly in Google Analytics. Your Analytics and Adwords accounts need to be linked. Then import those goals into Adwords. Only once you’ve done that, and can see plenty of conversions data for campaigns, should you switch to Maximize Conversions. It’s prudent to switch one campaign’s bidding strategy at a time, reviewing success, before switching the others over.

Help is out there

For advice on how to comply with the new rules, follow the conversations on the Google Advertiser forum. The Ad Grants team have been very helpful, so do post questions. They have given reassurance that if your account gets suspended, they will reactivate it once you’ve fixed the problem, and they’ll help you get back in compliance. And in the new NTEN community forum for digital advertising, you can discuss not just Google Ad Grants, but also advertising programs on Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms.



If you work in a digital, fundraising, or communications role at your organization, there is a good chance you’ve come across Google AdWords. Potentially, you have also been tasked with managing the account.

For nonprofit staff, managing an AdWords account can become an additional burden that gets ignored in the face of more important tasks. This article outlines a routine and task list for managing your organization’s AdWords account.

What is AdWords and Google Ad Grants?

For those not familiar with AdWords, these are the ads that are shown at the top of the Google search results page above the organic results. These paid ads allow advertisers to jump the organic search results and help bring people back to their websites when the user is actively searching for products or services.

Google Ad Grants is the nonprofit arm of AdWords. Google provides approved charities and nonprofits with up to $10,000 per month of in-kind AdWords advertising. This allows organizations to promote their organization on Google through text ads on the search results page.

Reality of AdWords Management

Google AdWords can be a highly effective way to bring traffic to your organization’s website when used correctly.

But it isn’t something that can be set up and left to sit. To get the most value out of AdWords, either through a Google Ad Grants account or paid use, you should routinely review and work within your account, making fine adjustments along the way.

But before you start…

Set Goals for Your Account

Like any good marketing campaign, taking a step back and planning out desired goals will keep you focused and give you something tangible to work towards.
Common goals for an AdWords account:

  • raise awareness
  • highlight programs and services
  • increase donations
  • encourage newsletter signs-ups
  • online event registration

Having goals in place allows you to make adjustments within your account in a meaningful way. Increased click-through rates, better response to your ads, and higher conversion levels are all outcomes of working towards specific goals.

Setting Realistic Work Flows

For dedicated AdWords managers, working within AdWords is part of our daily routine. But spending that amount of time in AdWords isn’t realistic for nonprofit staff who have a multitude of other tasks to complete each day.

Below is a suggested list of tasks and timelines that will keep you on track for regular account management that is meaningful and time effective.

Weekly Tasks

Keyword Level

  • Review for disapproved keywords: A disapproved keyword usually means there’s an issue with one or more of Google’s advertising policies.

Ad Group Level

  • Review for disapproved ads: Broken links to your webpage are the most frequent cause for disapproved ads and are easily fixed, for Google Ad Grants to ensure that your ads point back to your approved domain.

Campaign Level

  • Check alerts in your account at the top right corner of the interface; a little grey bell with a red alert will show up. Alerts related to account health should be dealt with quickly, but items like suggested keywords and ad groups can be reviewed at a later date.

Monthly Tasks

Keyword Level

  • Look for gaps in search terms of your ad groups and add keywords as necessary. The Google Keyword Tool is great for finding additional keywords to add and may turn up some unexpected results.
  • Review low performing keywords: Keywords with low quality scores, low click-through rates, and low conversion rates should be reviewed and paused.

Ad Group Level

  • Review A/B Testing: Well-managed AdWords accounts run A/B tests on ad copy and click-through-rates. Incremental differences in your ad performance can make a big difference in conversions over the course of a year.
  • Pause low-performing ads: Comparatively low click-through rates or conversion rates are reasons to pause ads.
  • Write new ads: If you’ve paused ads in your ad groups, now is the time to start a new A/B test by writing new ads.

Campaign Level

  • Review your campaign budgets: AdWords allows users to split the budget between your active campaigns. Once a month, take the time to review how much of your daily budget is allocated to each campaign and ensure your high priority campaigns have adequate budget allotments.
  • Check your geographic targeting for each campaign.

Additional Monthly Tasks

  • Reporting: Pull necessary reports on budget, campaign performance, and conversions.
  • Account access: Review permissions to ensure only current employees or approved 3rd party vendors have access to your AdWords account.

Quarterly Tasks

Keywords Level

  • Review your search terms report: This report shows what people are keying into Google to trigger your ads. Look for terms and phrases that can be added to your keyword lists.
  • Add negative keywords: In the search term report, you will also find phrases that aren’t relevant to your organizations. These keywords can be added as negative keywords to prevent your ads from showing when people search for them.

Ad Group Level

  • Review ad group configuration: Look for the opportunity to create new ad groups and improve the relevancy between your keywords, ads, and landing pages.
  • Pause or remove out of date ad groups: Specifically, look for expired events, seasonal programs, or old information.

Campaign Level

  • Add new campaigns in advance of seasonal fundraising, future events, and upcoming programs or services in your organization.
  • Connect with communications and development teams: Look for further opportunities that may have been missed.
  • Review dated campaigns for relevance: Keep your account up to date so that you continue to highlight your most important campaigns.

Ongoing Opportunities

The following blogs are excellent resources for learning more about Google AdWords and digital marketing:

It’s a cliché, but AdWords is easy to get started with and difficult to master. By working in your account on a regular basis, these routine tasks will take less time and become easier for you to complete.

According to Blackbaud’s Online Marketing Benchmark Study for Nonprofits, online giving is on the rise–but only represents a fraction of total giving. Nonprofits have an unprecedented opportunity to reach more donors and increase revenue through online marketing channels, including search, video, and social media.

Search Mojo designed this infographic to illustrate in an easy-to-follow format the different online marketing options available for nonprofits, as well as the process for applying for a Google Grant.

Get the infographic The State of Online Giving: Online Marketing Opportunities for Nonprofits, to learn about programs available to nonprofits to help them get more revenue for less cost.

Search Mojo has worked with a number of nonprofits to help them achieve their marketing goals, and specifically we’ve helped them to take advantage of the marketing programs Google has available specifically for nonprofits. From our experience, we know that many nonprofit marketers struggle with a lack of resources – both in budget and staff. We wanted to provide a resource that would not only help them navigate through Google’s nonprofit programs (such as Google Grants and YouTube for Nonprofits), but also learn about other low-cost ways they can spread the word online.