Google Ads vs. Facebook Ads: What Works, When

Digital AdvertisingGoogle Ad Grant

Digital advertising is a key component to increasing your organization’s digital presence, meeting potential supporters, and driving meaningful impact. At Whole Whale, we’ve helped nonprofits of all shapes and stripes stretch their resources to generate high returns on investment, advertising across multiple digital platforms.

The 2 largest online advertising platforms in the United States are Facebook, which has over 2 billion monthly active worldwide users, and Google, which receives over 63,000 searches every second. (Don’t believe us? Google it.) The takeaway: If you want to reach your audience, whether through retargeting previous site visitors or finding entirely new supporters, these are the platforms to be on.

But which one should your organization use? The tl;dr is probably both. Facebook is great for granular targeting options and more advertising formats. Google Ads is perfect for meeting users where they are — and it can be free if you qualify for the Google Ad Grant

Which platform you choose for each specific campaign depends on your goals. After spending $2 million on Facebook ads for nonprofits and tens of millions of dollars in Google Ad Grant spends, we’ve seen patterns for what works best on which platform for nonprofits. Here are the pros and cons of both Google Ads and Facebook Ads, including what will get you the most bang for your advertising bucks.

Google Ads or Facebook Ads? You'll probably want to invest in both — even if you're receiving the Google Ad Grant. Click To Tweet

Why — and when — you should advertise on Facebook

Granular targeting options

Facebook offers extremely detailed and powerful targeting options. You can target based on demographics, physical location (down to the zip code), and interests. These interests can range from the broad — like Travel — to extremely specific — such as particular Facebook pages (including this one). This type of interest-based targeting can be a great way to reach new audiences, especially for nonprofits in competitive spaces or cause verticals that touch other industries.

More advertising formats

Ads on Facebook can take many different forms,  from your basic static images and videos to carousels and slideshows to ads in Facebook Messenger. Facebook also allows you to advertise on Instagram through the same platform.
If you have a lot of different creative you want to test, Facebook is a great place to get started and start figuring out what types of content performs best with your audience. Do images or videos lead to a higher CTR? Do carousel ads lead to a higher ROI compared to the static image ads you’ve run in the past? Test out these hypotheses and let the data help you make more strategic decisions.

More advertising objectives

When you create a campaign on Facebook, there are close to a dozen different advertising objectives you can choose from, housed under the 3 umbrella categories of awareness, consideration, and conversion. With this framework, you could set up a campaign with the goal of reaching the maximum amount of people. Or you can focus on more specific actions, like getting users to sign up for your email list (without leaving the platform). If you’re running any type of Facebook ad, you should be using the Facebook pixel, a short piece of code that tracks what users do on your site and passes that data back to Facebook and Facebook’s advertising platform. Facebook then uses this information to help you create better campaigns on Facebook (plus a lot of other cool stuff).

Stretch your dollar further

You don’t need a 6-figure advertising budget to gain value from Facebook advertising. In fact, we’ve seen a lot of nonprofits have success for as little as $100 a month. Last February, we ran traffic ads for the Lung Cancer Foundation of America promoting Valentine’s Day related content. With a $100 budget, were able to acquire 190 landing page views at $0.53 per view, which resulted in a few dozen goal conversions! With the right targeting strategy, you’ll be surprised by how high of an ROI you can start seeing through Facebook ads.

Why — and when — you should use Google Ads

Meet users where they are

When you advertise on Google’s search network, you’re meeting users when they are, and when they’re actively searching for a product or service that’s relevant to your website. (Or they should be if you’re targeting relevant keywords.) This is a huge benefit compared to advertising on Facebook, where users aren’t actively looking for anything related to your organization.

Advertising on Google allows you to target people with a higher intent to convert, which can lead to an incredible ROI if done right. Unique value propositions and compelling calls to action in your ad will increase the chance that users click and convert.  

It’s free! Kind of…

If you’re a nonprofit looking to start advertising on Google’s search network, make sure you apply for the Google Ad Grant, which is $10,000 a month in free ad spend from Google to use on its search network. Using the Ad Grant is a great way to start measuring the ROI of advertising on Google without impacting your advertising budget. Before you get started, check out these tips for Google Ad Grant management.

Reach more of the Internet

Google’s Display Network, or GDN, is composed of 2+ million websites (including YouTube ads) and reaches over 90% of all internet users. Talk about reach! With such a large potential audience, advertising on the GDN can help further many advertising objectives, whether it’s increasing brand awareness of driving more conversions that are a bit further down the marketing funnel. Note: Grant accounts are not eligible to run ads on the Google Display Network, but you can still pay for ads on this network with a separate account.

Get views on your videos

YouTube is the second-largest search engine after Google. A major pro that we’ve seen for organizations that advertise on YouTube is a  low average cost-per video view, or CPV. In our work with Greater Than AIDS, which is a leading public information response to the U.S. domestic HIV/AIDS epidemic, we’ve developed a strategic targeting and placements strategy to drive millions of views on informational videos. Across clients, and in our own advertising efforts, we’ve seen CPV be as cheap as $0.02. Comparatively, we’ve seen this number be up to 8X more expensive on Facebook.

There are a number of potential benefits to advertising on both Facebook and Google. It’s impossible to declare that one is objectively better than the other, especially as many of the pros and cons depend on your goals, audience, and content. If you’re still on the fence, test it out! The best way to know what works and what doesn’t is to try it out, and let the data drive your next decision.


If you’re a Google Ads newbie and would like to dive deeper about how to set up an account from scratch, how to write awesome ads, where to find keywords, and how to measure success within your account, enroll in our three-hour Whole Whale University course. You’ll learn how to make the absolute best use of this grant, which will mean thousands more users taking meaningful action on your site this year. We’ve managed over $4 million in Google Grants and we want to help you get free money too!


Still have questions on Google Ads vs. Facebook Ads? Tweet us @WholeWhale!