The Nonprofit Guide to Managing the Google Ad Grant

Imagine walking into a Las Vegas casino. The bouncer hands you a shiny briefcase. Inside: $10,000. Cash. The bouncer lowers his sunglasses and tells you that the money is yours to spend however you wish, so long as you use it in the casino — and any money you make is yours to keep.

How could you say no?

The Google Ad Grant for nonprofits is akin to the above Vegas fantasy: $10,000 USD of in-kind advertising every month from Google Ads to use on-platform. This little-known, underutilized resource has a high potential value to drive traffic to your website, if used correctly.

We’ve seen plenty of nonprofits max the potential offered by Google, and have spent tens of millions of the house’s dollars in Google Ad Grant campaigns to help organizations get there. That’s more donations, more volunteers, more change in the world, on Google’s dime. Of course, that doesn’t make it easy. Here’s our guide to navigating the Google Ad Grant, from application to impact.

What is the Google Ad Grant?

The Google Ad Grant is offered through the Google for Nonprofits Program, which tailors signature Google tools like G Suite to the needs (and budgets!) of nonprofits. This includes ads on the Google Search Network, which appear before the organic search results on Google pages. A small green box labeled “Ad” separates these from the unpaid search results. 

Example of Google Search ad, using the Google Ad Grant

Example of a Google Search ad

With this grant, you can spend up to $120,000 in Google’s advertising money over the next year to help you amplify your digital impact (or $480,000 if you were one of the lucky nonprofits to land the GrantsPro grant, no longer being offered). The Google Ad Grant is designed not only to drive traffic to your site, but also high-quality, converting traffic. Google’s goal is to help its grantees build more donations with this free ad space, in part by focusing on the quality of ad traffic over the quantity. 

First Steps

The 3 things you should know: Here’s how to apply for the Google Ad Grant, our constantly-updated guide to Ad Grant policy changes, and the ultimate Google Ads glossary.

How to use the Google Ad Grant in 3 easy steps

Once you’re approved for the Google Ad Grant, max that $#*! Google gives you $10k every month to spend, and any money left on the table at the end of the month is gone forever. Using as much of that money as you can is going to take some serious effort at the beginning, but keep in mind that you’re setting up a system that will pay off in dividends for months, or even years, to come.

1. Pick an Ad Grant Captain

Identify an account lead and set up a system for maintaining the account. Consider how they will report performance to others and how often will they log in to maintain the account. (We recommend at least once a week; Google’s best practices say once every two weeks.) There should be more time allocated at the beginning of getting the Grant, or if you have seasonal events. Once you’ve set up a robust account, an hour a week should be plenty of time.

Step 2: Plan and Build Your Ads

Before you even log into your Google Ad Grant account, brainstorm the high-level things people might be searching for that would lead them to your site. Think backwards: Your site is the answer, so what is the question? Be creative about the keywords you want to capitalize on and consider the content you currently have on-site.

Organize these keywords into general categories. A helpful rule to follow is that all of the ad groups within a campaign should lead to the same landing page. If you’re doing any geo-targeting or bid adjustment, you’ll want to separate those campaigns accordingly, since AdWords only allows you to adjust geographic targeting and most other settings at the campaign level.

Pair these keyword categories with landing pages. These should be pages on your website with a clear purpose and call-to-action. You may have one, you may have many. Check out our guide to landing pages that work.

From there, write your ads. We recommend starting with 2 ads per group; from there you can see which ads perform the best and try to beat the MVP.

Need more info? We have guides to building Google Ads campaigns, ad groups, and keywords — plus some ideas for simple Google Ads campaigns.

3. Measure, Learn, and Grow

You’ll need Google Analytics in order to successfully run the Google Ad Grant, and the most important step to any digital campaign or initiative is to measure its effectiveness. Analyze which campaigns or keywords are performing the best in your Ad Grant campaign. Build on what’s working; pause what isn’t. As a reminder, we have a Google Ads optimization checklist for nonprofits.

Dive Deeper with Google Ad Grant Management

Once you have your feet wet, there are more oceans to explore with the Google Ad Grant, including the best time to run Google Ads and using the Google Ads “If” function. There are also some instances in which you may want to consider a second Google Ads account to run paid Google Ads.

Google Ad Grant FAQ

What about AdWords Express? What if we’re relaunching our website? Are Google Ads better than Facebook AdsHelp, I lost my Google Ad Grant! We got you covered with these resources to bookmark when you’re either setting up your Ad Grant account or going through a digital transition.

What about GrantsPro?

Pour one out for GrantsPro: The Google AdWords GrantsPro awarded $40,000 a month in in-kind advertising for qualifying nonprofits. GrantsPro was first introduced in 2010. In 2013, Google abruptly closed the application. In June 2014, the program reopened for new applicants and remained open until September 2016, when it closed again. Nonprofits that previously had the grant will be allowed to stay at the $40k per month level. Here’s an overview on how GrantsPro worked.

Want to go from 0 to 60 on the Google Ad Grant? There are a lot of trainings out there on Google Ads (formerly Google Adwords), but ours is the first that will show you how to apply strategies specific for nonprofits to use Google Ads to drive impact. Our course will walk you through the grant application process and show you the special nuances of working within a grant account. Register on Whole Whale University.