Free Advertising for Nonprofits: Getting Started With Google Ad Grants

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I don’t think there is a nonprofit in existence that hasn’t (at one point or another) had to worry about budgeting funds for advertising. For many nonprofits, it’s the first thing to go when the budget gets tight. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, organizations of all sizes have already jumped on the opportunity to get $10,000 in free advertising for nonprofits every month — for free, like really free.

Google Ad Grants are a great way to gain some advertising funds to get your nonprofit’s name and the great things you do out into your community and the world.

Ad Grants for Beginners

In a nutshell, a Google Ad Grant is an AdWords account with a $10,000 cap. AdWords lets you create text-based ads (no images or videos can be included) and associate them with different keywords. Other types of campaigns let you target based on things like audience or device, but Ad Grants are set to target keywords.

When someone searches for a keyword you’ve chosen on Google, your ad could appear above or below the organic search results for that phrase. I say “could appear” because AdWords operates on a bidding system. The maximum bid you can place on any given keyword will be $2. So if the minimum bid is higher than that (usually due to its popularity), your ad won’t be shown for that particular keyword. But when the minimum bid is less than $2, your ads will appear below the paying ads that are included for any particular keyword phrase.

Check out the screenshot to see how it plays out in real life. I did a Google search for the keyword “exercises for scoliosis treatment” and got the below results. The first two results are paid advertisements, but the third is an ad for a nonprofit through Ad Grants. The organic results appear below the three ads. Although, depending on the keyword, sometimes the ads will appear below the organic results or there’ll only be one or two ads that show up instead of the full three shown in the example.

Free advertising for nonprofits

Benefits of Free Advertising for Nonprofits

By setting up an AdWords account, you’ll see all sorts of benefits. In addition to boosting brand awareness, you’ll be able to reach new supporters in your target audience and access new kinds of marketing data:

  • Your website will get additional visibility — meaning a spike in traffic and (depending on the content of your ads) more donations, volunteers or services rendered.
  • You’ll be able to attract visitors at the exact moment they look (search) for you.
  • You can connect your AdWords account to Google Analytics and see conversions (how many people clicked on your ad or took the action you were hoping they’d take). You can then work to improve your ads based on data insights.
  • You can set your ad to target your local community or the world (or a piece of each). It’s up to you and who you think would be most interested.

Read our guide to find more ways to increase traffic to your nonprofit website >

Eligible Nonprofits

You may be thinking to yourself that this is too good to be true, that there’s no way you’ll qualify for $10,000 a month in free advertising for nonprofits. Stop being so cynical! Google works with more than 20,000 nonprofits in more than 50 countries. Any nonprofit that holds a valid nonprofit status in their country and has a live website with a good amount of content on it is eligible. There are a few exceptions to that rule, including government organizations, hospitals, childcare centers and academic institutions.

How to Set It Up

Ad Grants is part of the Google for Nonprofits program. You’ll need to apply for that program and be verified as an eligible nonprofit before you can set up your AdWords account. Once your account is approved, you can then enroll in Ad Grants. Google offers lots of support along the way, plus the following steps to get your nonprofit started in Google Ad Grants.

  • Apply for an Ad Grants from your Google Admin dashboard
  • Create your Account (either in AdWords or AdWords Express)
  • Set up your first campaign — write an ad (or two) and add keyword phrases
  • Submit your account for review
  • Maintain your account (at least monthly but it’s great to get in there more often)

In case you’re not sure whether to choose AdWords or AdWords Express, or what the difference between the two is, AdWords Express is a simpler, more automatized version of AdWords. It’s meant for those of you nonprofit marketers without much time to devote to AdWords.

Maintaining Your AdWords Account

As a heads up, AdWords can be fairly time consuming, just like any advertising project. To see a big difference in your traffic, you’ll likely need to devote a few hours each month to fine-tuning your account. That could mean looking over the analytics and adding or updating the ads, swapping out or adding keywords, or breaking keywords out into their own ad groups and writing new ads to target those new ad groups.

There’s most definitely a learning curve with AdWords. It helps to have some experience withsearch engine optimization and the guiding principles behind it, but it’s not necessary. For example, researching possible keywords to see if they present any opportunity before adding them to a campaign could make a big difference, but you don’t need to research those words for the campaign to run. It’s possible to see some success using a trial and error method. Try it out for yourself! If you can see the possibilities in free advertising for nonprofits but need some additional support to keep your account in good shape, you can always ask for help down the road.

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