Adwords Grant Management: What is a Google Grant?

Nonprofit Management

While there are a number of competent Adwords managers out there, virtually all of the companies you see advertising Adwords Grant management are just agencies looking for work.  They have never worked in nonprofits and do not really understand the needs and challenges and demands of nonprofit life, and how to leverage Adwords Grants into CHANGE.

I am a career nonprofit manager, with 20 years experience with local, national, and international nonprofit work.  While other firms may be good at Adwords, none will be a deeper partner in strategy and deployment of Adwords as a tool for social change and improvement.

What is the Google Adwords Grant?

Simply put, the Adwords grant is an opportunity to get as many as 70,000 new people acquainted with your organization each year.

It is a source of up to $120,000/year of in-kind match and tremendous visibility online which you can choose to target to reach the people you need to reach, and make the impact you want.

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What is Adwords?

Adwords is the service that shows ads on the top and right-hand side when you run a search on Google.  They are often for products, but this program lets you advertise your cause!

Here is an example of a nonprofit that is most likely using the Adwords Grant program to advertise their organization and program to people interested in poverty issues in the US.  This is great, curious people can just click and find out more information!   If the regular click cost would be $1, people can click that ad 120,000 times/year and it would be free!


poverty adwords simple


How to Manage an Adwords Grant

Not all Adwords grants are equal.  The OPPORTUNITY is open for everyone who gets the grant but MANY (really MOST) nonprofits manage it poorly.   The examples above were pretty decent.  Some ads are not good:

google adwords grant ad forest


It seems like nobody was paying attention to this ad.  I inserted the question mark as the ad seems to trail off mid-sentence! When someone wrote the add the sentence looked fine. They didn’t understand how the ads actually display.

An example of a nonprofit ad with all the bells and whistles (and one that is “OK”):

good example adwords grant ad google

As you can see there is A LOT of variation and success and impact.

But that’s not the worst of it.  Most don’t even use most of the budget!  Our of a $10,000/month budget the average nonprofit only uses $300/mo.  3% of the total!   Thousands of nonprofits use basically zero of the budget.

Why?  It’s harder than it looks!

Issues with Adwords Grant Management

There are 3 main issues I see with nonprofits’ management of Adwords grants:

1. It’s a new skill set and it’s not easy

Many nonprofits just throw the Adwords grant on someone’s to-do list because they are good with web development or marketing or have some other perceived skill that is relevant.   That person struggles and puts in time trying to learn a totally unfamilar and somewhat complicated (to do it well) challenge, and puts it aside when they get busy.

Adwords is like chess, “It takes minutes to learn, but a lifetime to master”.   You can get in and move things around, and “do” Adwords, but mostly this ends up with you having poor quality scores, and not enough search volume.  This means that you have campaigns and ad groups and keywords and ads, but they don’t do anything for you as few people see your ads.

I suggest you don’t waste your time like this.  If you’re going to do it, DO it. Either hire someone who’s already an expert, like us, or make it a priority for the staffer who takes it on.  Have them go through the hundreds of pages of reading and watch the videos and become certified.  They’ll be an asset to your organization.   Don’t “half-ass” it, or it will be a waste of time.

It reminds me of a local historical opera house which hosts community events like music and theater who got the Adwords grant, and then realized it took a lot to manage it.  Even though they have events they needed to market (and spent money marketing) they failed to utilize the grant.  So after their first year they had used under $4000 of a potential $120,000 grant, but they also had blown many staff hours trying to figure it out!

2. No Volume

THE biggest challenge for nonprofits that are local or narrowly focused is that even if they do commit to managing the Adwords campaign well, there may not be enough people searching on the terms they care about!  For example, if you run a ferret rescue operation in Kansas, placing ferrets in new homes when owners want to get rid of them, and you only can take ferrets from a 3 hour drive away, here is your issue.

You could advertise on search terms like “ferret”.  But try it, and you realize most of the people searching for “ferret” are many miles from you.  You try restricting to “East Kansas Ferret” and you have nobody searching on that term. You ask an adwords expert you know and he says to set the location under settings. So you go through that, and you find you have 50 people/month searching on ferret but most of them are just curious and only one person/month clicks on your ad.

If you want to discuss the potential your organization has, we’d be happy to give you some pointers before you get too far along.


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3. Expecting the Implausible

If you have never raised money online, don’t expect that the Adwords grant is going to make you a bunch of money!

Look at the results you’re getting now from your online presence, and look at the Adwords grant adding to that.

But let me say it this way.  If you aren’t successful at online fundraising now, with your existing supporters and online presence, don’t expect Adwords to be some kind of silver bullet.  People do not give money to strangers very often. If they click on your ferret rescue operation they’ve never heard of, they may be curious, they MIGHT even sign up on your email list. But they’re not just going to whip their wallet out the first time the “meet” your organization.

Adwords Grants and Your Fundraising and Donations Ecosystem

The Google Grant is a tool. It is also something that you can use to organize a robust and effective online friend-raising and fun-raising effort.

In marketing there is the concept of a funnel.  People at the top of the funnel may be vaguely interested but they don’t know your organization, don’t know what you offer, and certainly did not “show up” expecting to give you their hard earned money.  Only a smaller number will make it through the funnel and become donors. They go through several steps before they get there though.

To get someone to donate, they have to go through a journey of learning, discovery, and building a relationship with your organization.   An effective online marketing strategy will have something for different steps along the way.

The first step is more about catching their interest. An Adwords ad placed correctly and written correctly will catch their eye and pique their interest. If they click, the page they are taken to (the “landing page) needs to meet their expectations. It should relate to what the ad was about, and it should provide the type of information they want.

If they click around your web site and find enough engaging content (ideally video, but photos are also nice, and well-written materials are important as well) they may be interested enough to follow you on Facebook or G+ or Twitter or Linked in or (etc. etc. You should give them a variety options for how to connect) or even to subscribe to your email list.

To understand how your visitors are engaging you’ll want to monitor your Google Analytics, to see where they go, what they click on, how long they stay, etc.. You can also see where they’re from, how they found your site, and other information that really helps you understand how well your web site is working. Not technically, but is it “doing its job” in being interesting and informative.

Ideally you’d also have other ways for people to learn more.  Maybe you have a calendar of upcoming events they can attend (or even register for online…). Maybe you have webinars they can sit in on, or videos they can watch to learn more.  Maybe you have volunteer opportunities or local meetups where they can support the organization but also socialize with likeminded people!

By now you get the idea. There is a process folks go through, and the more you can “open up the way” and give the visitor options for taking those “next steps” of learning and involvement, the more you have people funneling toward being supporters and even donors.

Once people know your organization you need to give them continuing information that is targeted to them and your other more committed supporters.  This is where you start having reasonable potential of garnering donations.   People believe in your mission, they have developed trust and affinity for your organization, and they are looking for ways to help.

When you have reached this stage you still have work to do. You need to provide opportunities to give that are interesting, relevant to your supporter’s interests, and empowering.  People don’t want to feel like you see them as a cash cow.  They need to be a PARTNER in creating some positive impact.

By now you definitely see, the purpose of the Adwords Grant is typically to attract people who may have some interest in what you care about and pull them in initially.  This will not yield immediate donations, but can be a VERY important step in developing your support base.  If you get 20,000 additional visitors and you develop 1000 new per year who become supporters for life, that is a nice boost.


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Quality Management Yields Quality Results

I have worked in nonprofits for decades, and I have seen organizations through some very bleak times.  I know how desperate things can seem and understand the tendency to want to grab on to opportunities. Sometimes this leads to unrealistic expectations. Sometimes people with tiny nonprofits come forward and expect to get the Adwords grant and have resources showered upon them.  Folks, that ain’t going to happen.

It can be an AMAZING resource if you use it correctly and invest in putting it to effective use.  You need to have:

1. Professional management of the campaign (by a consultant or a staff member who will invest weeks of time in learning)

2. A web site which is quality, AND adapt it to the needs of the Adwords system.  You need focused “landing pages” where people who click an ad arrive at a page that really speaks to them and engages them to learn more.

3. A well-developed marketing system. What are people searching on that will be relevant to your site? What can you say that will interest them? When they get to the site, what will engage and interest them if they clicked on a given ad?  What questions will they have about your organization your site should answer? How can folks connect with you? (e-newsletter, well-managed social media interactions) What are some “next steps” of involvement?  (educational events, volunteer events, letter-writing, learning more from online materials)  How do you “make the ask” for them to become supporters and/or volunteers? How do you support them in reaching out to others they may know who would be interested? etc.  There are a lot of steps to effective engagement, but once the system is in place, it is a natural flow. It’s not “additional” work.  It IS THE work.  It’s building support for the cause you believe in.

But How Can I Afford It? 

If you can’t invest in your online marketing and donor/supporter engagement, you shouldn’t bother with it.   But there are resources that are out there.  Many foundations will look very favorably on efforts to build your capacity and build your supporter base. They often will include Adwords management and online marketing activities in your grants, or even do “capacity building” grants.  We have experience helping nonprofits integrate this activity into their fundraising.

Some nonprofits have natural earning potential. If you sell services (like supported employment staffing), tickets (like museums, etc.) or have events that already have some fundraising “pull” (silent auctions, online auctions, or in-person events) you may be able to quickly recoup the costs of managing an adwords grant from that.

If you have a recognized and trusted name and mission, you may well be able to get donors engaged sooner than an “unknown” organization.

Adwords gets you connected with thousands of interested people.  The question is what are you offering?

What it Can Mean in the Long-Run

Google has not indicated they have any plans to reduce the program, and the grant is renewable.  It may well be possible for nonprofits to harness $500,000 or even $1,000,000 worth of Adwords over 5 or 10 years.

Opportunities like this don’t come along every day.  Many capable organizations with compelling missions should be able to leverage this into a huge support for their organization.

Thank you for the work you do.  I deeply hope this article was useful to you, and that in some way it will help you move your organization forward.  It may be with an Adwords grant, or it may just be thinking about how you engage your supporters better.  If it is useful let me know. If there are ways the advice could be improved, please also let me know!

We’re available to help nonprofits secure and manage Adwords grants.  Please give us a shout if you are interested.


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NB $120k Is the Maximum

Please note, 120k is the maximum for the program. It is NOT a guaranteed amount.  The amount of traffic you effectively harness could be zero, or could be minimal.  Many nonprofits that are a good “fit” can achieve a few thousand/month, but not the full 10k.  So if you think about the opportunity think about $30-60k/year. Don’t do it if you MUST get $120k/yr as you probably wont.  Expert management will often get a campaign 10X more than it would get otherwise, but it varies A LOT.

PS,  Yes, Sometimes It’s Crazy-Making

Finally, I have to say that sometimes it is frustrating that Adwords Grants are not a good “fit” for many amazing organizations.

Great organizations doing really important work sometimes, or even often, are not able to utilize the grant.  If they are too small, too narrowly focused, or even just “ahead of their time”, there may not be appropriate traffic that is needed for this thing to work.

When a natural disaster happens, zillions of people are researching how to help.  They feel that immediate reaction and understand the suffering. But some of the deepest, most visionary social change work is not understood by the public, and certainly few of them are searching for the cutting-edge ideas that are just emerging.

In Einstein’s time, the search traffic on “Theory of Relativity” would have been zero.

My heart goes out to the trail blazers and the visionaries.  I am with you.




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