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The Top 25 Things You Didn’t Know About Google Ad Grants

Author: Sayana Izmailova
November 1, 2022
🕑 18 min read

Did you know that nonprofits are eligible for a $10,000 monthly grant to spend on advertising space from Google?

Through the Google Ad Grants program, Google strives to empower nonprofits to amplify their causes online and reach an audience searching for missions like theirs.

So how do you sign up? Check that you meet the eligibility criteria and apply! If selected, you can add $120,000 a year to your nonprofit’s advertising budget and cast your marketing net wider than ever—without spending your hard-earned donations.

A LOT has changed since Google Ad Grants started in 2003. So naturally, there are some common misconceptions about the process—from how long the application really takes to how the grant works behind the scenes.

We want to share the knowledge we’ve gained as Google Ad Grant account managers to make the process more approachable and transparent for your nonprofit, whether you’re thinking about applying, are partway through applying or are already a grantee.

Throughout this guide, we’ll cover 25 things you should know about the Google Ad Grants program. Our hope is that you walk away more confident in your ability to make the most of your campaigns. Let’s dive in!

1. You’re Not Competing With Other Nonprofits

For most grants, there’s a limited amount of funds that nonprofits must compete to win. That can deter many smaller organizations from applying since they’ll believe their time is better spent pursuing other, more likely funding opportunities. That’s where Google Ad Grants differ.

Unlike most grant programs, you don’t actually have to compete to get into the Google Ad Grants program. Instead, if you meet the eligibility criteria, you’ll have no problem getting approved.

So, what exactly are the eligibility requirements for Google Ad Grants? Google requires every participating nonprofit to undergo an approval process, where they must meet a certain set of standards before being accepted. The ultimate goal is to ensure anyone who participates will actually benefit from the program.

For instance, Getting Attention’s guide to Google Grants eligibility breaks down the requirements in-depth and explains that applicants must:

  • Hold current and valid charity status in your country (e.g. U.S.-based organizations must be registered as a 501(c)(3) organization with the IRS)
  • Be registered with TechSoup and Google for Nonprofits
  • Have a functioning website that features valuable and promotable content
  • Not be a governmental entity, healthcare organization, or educational institution

Make sure your organization follows these Google Ad Grant eligibility guidelines.

In other words, don’t worry about the size or scope of your organization—applicants are evaluated based on this standard set of requirements and are never measured up against each other.

Not to mention, you won’t have to reapply for the grant every month! It’ll automatically renew so long as you keep your account in good standing.

2. There’s No Deadline To Apply For Google Ad Grants

If you’re interested in the Google Ad Grant but don’t have the bandwidth to apply just yet, we have great news: there are no deadlines! The Google Ad Grants team reviews applications on a rolling basis, so you can apply whenever you’re prepared.

This gives you plenty of time to:

  • Bring your website up to code and optimize your landing pages
  • Brainstorm how Google Grants will fit into your nonprofit’s current marketing and fundraising strategies
  • Register your organization with TechSoup

Once you start the application process, you can move through it at your own pace. If you need to pause for any reason, you can pick up where you left off whenever you’re ready.

3. You Must Have A Google for Nonprofits Account

Speaking of applying for the program, Google requires you to create a Google for Nonprofits account before you can apply. In fact, you’ll need to access the Ad Grant application through Google for Nonprofits, which is why having an account is a mandatory prerequisite.

To sign up for Google for Nonprofits, you’ll need to do the following:

  1. Register your organization with TechSoupTechSoup partners with companies like Google to bring mission-driven technology and resources to nonprofits at free or reduced rates. Once verified, TechSoup will give you a token number that you can then use to access products and services exclusively for nonprofits.

  2. Activate Google for Nonprofits. You’ll need to visit the Google for Nonprofits registration website, agree to non-discrimination statements, provide the TechSoup token, and supply subsequent information about your organization. From here, you’ll gain access to the Google Grants application among other helpful tools.

The idea behind this is to ensure that only verified organizations are accessing the application. And as we’ll explore in the next section, Google for Nonprofits actually gives you access to other normally-expensive Google products to further your mission beyond the Ad Grants program.

4. You Gain Access To Other Products Through Google for Nonprofits

On that note, let’s take a look at the other products you’ll gain access to through Google for Nonprofits. Google’s products can be used in conjunction with the Google Ad Grants program, to improve internal operations, and to streamline your work overall.

Beyond Google Ad Grants, some of the perks you’ll receive include:

Google for Nonprofits offers free access to these tools in addition to Google Ad Grants

  • Google Workspace: Gain complimentary access to productivity tools within G Suite like Gmail, Docs, Drive, Calendar, and Meet.

  • The YouTube Nonprofit Program: Spread the word about your cause through powerful visual storytelling on YouTube, where you’ll have access to a donate button and video annotations that link to your site.

  • Google Earth and Maps: Help beneficiaries and prospects find your nonprofit’s community programs and resources.

With free access to powerful tools through Google, you can much more efficiently advance your mission. Whether you’re looking to streamline internal operations or strengthen your marketing, Google’s free tools can help you amplify your work.

5. Website Quality Is Incredibly Important For Your Campaigns

Your nonprofit’s website is the backbone of your Google Ad Grant.

For one, the Google Ad Grants team takes the quality and usability of your site into consideration when reviewing your application. What’s more important though is why sufficient website quality is a prerequisite.

Your website hosts the content you’ll promote through the program, meaning that it ultimately determines whether a user will donate, register to volunteer, or take another action that’s meaningful to your organization. 

Once you have the Grant, the quality of your site affects if (and when) your ads show — and more importantly, whether users are driven to take meaningful action once they’re there.

That’s why you’ll want to take the time to optimize your website and perform regular maintenance to ensure it stays usable and valuable. Nonprofits should ensure the following when creating and maintaining their sites:

  • Each page is mobile responsive. You want users to be able to access your site, even from their phones! When your website is mobile responsive, the content will automatically resize to fit each user’s screen, creating a better experience for them. That’s why you should double-check that your site, especially pages like your donation form, works seamlessly across different screen sizes.

  • Users can easily navigate the site. You want everyone to be able to explore your site without getting lost or frustrated! Once users enter your site from your ads on Google, they should be able to find exactly what they need to engage with your cause. Start by featuring your most important pages in your navigation menu. Then, make it a habit to regularly check your menus to ensure all links work and don’t lead to 404 error pages.

  • Your site is secure. One of the quickest ways to deter users away from your website is by not having a secure website. Think about it: no one will want to share their personal details like their payment information for a donation if they think it’s at risk of being stolen! Acquire your HTTPS certificate and make sure any third-party forms and payment processors use encryption.

Not only are these elements required to maintain Google Grants eligibility, but they’ll also reassure users that your nonprofit is trustworthy.

6. The Application Timeline Varies — A Lot

Depending on what prerequisites you already have, the amount of time it takes to complete the two-part application can vary from a couple of weeks to several months.

Remember not to rush: It’s important to complete every step of the application properly since rejection can be a major timeline setback.

Here are the general time estimates for each stage of the Google Grants application process:

  1. TechSoup verification: 2 to 14 business days
  2. Google for Nonprofits account setup: 0 to 14 business days
  3. Google Ad Grants Pre-Qualification: 2 to 9 business days
  4. Google Ad Grants Account Setup: 6 to 29 business days
  5. Application review: Approximately 10 business days

As you wait to hear back, spend your time working out your potential game plan for the Ad Grant. While both TechSoup and Google will typically reach out to you, note that you may have to follow up if you don’t hear back.

7. The Grant Covers Text-Based Ads Only

When you search for something on Google, the first few results that appear are usually ads. These are differentiated with a small ‘AD’ sticker at the top left corner of the listing. These are called Google Search Ads, and they’re the text-based ads that nonprofits can create with the Ad Grant.

This example screenshot shows how an ad will be displayed using Google Ad Grants

Display Ads, or visual banner ads with graphics, cannot be displayed using the Ad Grant, but don’t let that deter you. Text-based Google Search Ads can send really high-quality traffic to your website such as donors who are ready to give—and you won’t need a graphic designer to create them. What it all boils down to is having compelling ad copy that inspires readers to click through to your landing page.

Not to mention, you can always create a paid Google Ads account that will allow you to use Display Ads if you’d like to take your ads up a notch.

8. The Google Ad Grant Is Not Technically $10,000 Per Month

Your Google Ad Grants budget will be set daily rather than monthly, so the $10,000 is actually dolled out in $329 allotments for each day of the month. Keep in mind that if you don’t spend the full $329, it doesn’t roll over to the next day.

It’s common for nonprofits to underuse the grant because daily allotments aren’t spent, so consider how you’ll maximize your ad spend strategically. While you’ll naturally want to spend the full amount, you still want to make sure that you’re connecting with qualified leads, such as people who are ready to donate, volunteer, attend an event, or something else!

In other words, it’s okay if you don’t spend the full $329 per day. Your ultimate goal should be connecting with people who are ready to help out your cause!

9. You Won’t Spend The $10,000 Immediately

To set realistic expectations for your first few months as a grantee, keep in mind that it’s difficult to spend the entire $10,000 in the first month (or even the first few months).

Google’s machine learning algorithm decides when to show your ads, and it needs time to gather data and learn about your account. This means it can take some time to increase spending and reach more of the right users.

10. You Aren’t Penalized For Using Less Than The $10,000

A large number of grantees don’t ever use the full $10,000, and that’s completely normal—especially if your nonprofit serves a very specific or highly local population. You will never be penalized for using less. 

Google highly encourages users to focus on the quality of their ads rather than how much they spend. That’s also why they have monthly compliance rules for grantees to follow. They want nonprofits to create ads that generate value for their cause, even if that means not spending the full amount.

The most important thing is to make sure you’re reaching the right users rather than just focusing on the amount you spend each month.

11. You Aren’t Penalized For Using More, Either

On the flip side, accounts that consistently max out the Grant budget will sometimes spend slightly over $10,000 in a single month. If your account starts to break through the upper limit of the budget, don’t panic! Grant accounts are never billed (ever), so bask in the glory of the extra budget.

When it comes to sticking to the budget, note that Google caps manual bids at a $2 limit. This prevents auction inflation so organizations can earn more clicks with their budget. Note that accounts using automated bidding can actually exceed that manual limit.

If you’re using automated bidding, we recommend choosing ‘Maximize Conversion Values’ within the Google Ads platform. This bidding strategy is perfect for tracking monetary goals like:

  • Donations
  • Merchandise purchases
  • Ticket sales
  • Membership fees

For all other goals, use Maximize conversions. This bidding strategy will automatically set bids focused on your conversion goals and will help you to maximize your ad spend more strategically.

12. You Pay For Clicks, Not Ad Space

So how does spending your grant actually work? Well, Google uses a “pay-per-click” model, which means you don’t pay for ad space like you would in traditional marketing. Instead, you only pay when a user clicks an ad. With Google Ad Grant accounts, that payment is deducted from your monthly allowance.

The cost of each click varies a lot, but in our experience, the average cost per click hovers around $2.73. Every time a user completes a search, Google’s algorithm determines how much their click will cost based on a handful of factors, like competition for the keyword, traffic, and your Ad Quality Score.

Your ‘Ad Quality Score’ is a metric that Google assigns to your ads. A higher Ad Quality Score means that your ad and landing page are more useful to someone searching for your keyword when compared to other advertisers.

13. Resources Can Reduce The Learning Curve

Between researching keywords and testing your ad copy, there’s a lot to learn when it comes to Google Ad Grants.

Remember, Google initially created Ads for professional marketers, so if you’re a newcomer, it’ll take some time to learn how to navigate the interface, create new campaigns, optimize your account and stay compliant with the program’s rules.

Here are some of the most useful resources for optimizing your Google Grant Account:

  • Google’s Skillshop
  • The Google Ad Grants YouTube channel
  • The Google Ad Grants Community Forum
  • The Ad Grants Help Center
  • “Customized Performance & Suggestions” and “Special Offers” emails from the Google Grants team
  • The top FAQs about Google Ad Grants

Each of these is free, but for more tailored help, consider hiring a professional Google Grants manager. These individuals can provide custom advice regarding things like choosing keywords and picking the right landing pages that make the most sense for your nonprofit.

14. There Are Several Use Cases For Google Ad Grants

One of the best parts of the Google Grants program is its versatility. Their team gives you a lot of flexibility regarding the types of conversion goals and landing pages you choose. In turn, there are plenty of ways the program can fit into your nonprofit’s larger strategies.

For example, here are just a few of the different types of landing pages you can promote:

  • Donation forms
  • Membership forms
  • Volunteer opportunities and signup forms
  • Event registration pages
  • Specific fundraising campaign landing pages
  • Advocacy opportunities like petitions

So, whether you’re looking to boost your digital fundraising or gain traction for a grassroots advocacy movement, the Google Ad Grant can help you get there.

15. Google Ad Grants Can Be Leveraged For Commercial Use.

While Google requires that you limit commercial activity on your site, you can still have products and services that have a fee. Your website just has to describe how your nonprofit will use the funds. Then, you can use your Ad Grant funds to promote those opportunities.

That means you can:

  • Sell tickets to events relevant to your mission
  • Promote branded merchandise for your cause
  • Encourage people to sign up for your membership program

Through the Google Ad Grants program, you can promote your nonprofit’s products and services.

So long as it’s not the sole purpose of your website, you can engage in these types of commercial activities. You can also set values for conversions to better gauge how much value your Google Ads drive when you promote these opportunities.

16. Google Can Suspend Your Google Ad Grants Account.

Google reserves the right to suspend your account and pause your ads if you fall out of compliance with the Ad Grant Policies. Some of these policies include:

  • Maintaining a 5% click-through rate each month
  • Having at least one conversion per month
  • Not using one-word or generic keywords
  • Having at least 2 ads per ad group and 2 ad groups per campaign

Google puts these rules into place to maintain the integrity of the program and ensure that nonprofits are actually gaining value from the program. If your account is suspended, don’t worry! Not all hope is lost.

17. You Can Reactivate Your Google Ad Grants Account

The good news is that Google allows you to correct the reason for the suspension as soon as possible and submit a reactivation request! Simply follow the instructions Google sends you to get your account back in compliance with the program’s rules before submitting your request.

Now, you can even request that the Ad Grants team brings your account into full policy compliance for you. When submitting your reactivation request, provide them with one-time approval to do so. Then, they’ll make the changes necessary within 5 business days and send you a confirmation email as soon as they’re done.

However, note that if your GrantsPro account is deactivated, Google will no longer reinstate it since the program no longer accepts new applicants. This program was a larger-scale version of the Google Ad Grants program and awarded organizations $40,000 a month instead of $10,000.

18. You Should Set Aside Time Each Month To Check On Your Campaigns

As you can tell, there’s a lot that goes into managing a Google Ad Grants account. If you have the staff bandwidth to do so, we recommend designating an internal team member’s time to check up on your account and campaigns every few weeks. If not, you might outsource the work to an expert.

Professional Google Grants agencies can do the following for you:

  • Conduct keyword research and pick the terms your prospects are searching
  • Set up conversion tracking and help you choose the right conversion goals
  • Create your ads and make adjustments based on performance
  • Optimize the landing pages associated with your Google Grants account
  • Make sure you comply with the program’s rules
  • Get your account reactivated if you ever run into any issues

Whether you outsource the work or handle it internally, you need to consistently check on your account in order to actually generate value from the program.

19. Google Ads Works Best With Other Google Products

It can come as a surprise that Google Ads isn’t the only tool needed to run your Google Ad Grant account. To get the most out of the Grant, you should use it alongside other Google products, including:

  • Google Analytics, which gives you insight into how users arrived at the site and what they interacted with once there.
  • Google Tag Manager, which lets you track meaningful interactions users have on the site, such as newsletter signups, contact form submissions, and event signups.

Like we mentioned earlier, your Google for Nonprofits account will unlock free access to these tools among plenty of others. So, you’ll never have to worry about paying for any tools needed to run your Google Ad Grants account!

20. Paid Ads and Grant Ads Don’t Compete (And You Can Use Both!)

While Paid Ads always show before Grant Ads by default, they don’t actually compete with each other. Grant Ads will only ever appear below paid ads. That means you can bid on the same keywords in your Paid account and Grant account at the same time.

Using both at once can be a great way to expand your reach. If you have a Paid account and keep hitting the limit of your daily budget, your Ad Grant account can step in and pick up the rest of the traffic (or vice versa).

Google actually welcomes Ad grantees to invest in a paid Google Ads account as a great way to expand your reach. Plus, paid accounts unlock access to other features like video ads, remarketing, and image ads.

21. Clicks Don’t Automatically Go To The Highest Bidder

At some point, you’ve probably asked, “Why should I try to compete if big organizations with millions to spend will always outrank me?” We hear variations on this theme a lot.

Luckily, Google designed its search engine and Ad programs to make sure ads don’t just show for the highest bidding advertiser. Their priority is helping users find the most relevant and useful information available. Your Grant Ads will show if they are high quality and relevant to a user’s search, so don’t let the thought of those big organizations deter you.

22. You Can Use Targeting To Improve Ad Performance

Reach likely prospects and maximize your ad performance by leveraging targeting tools within your Google Grants account. Here are common ways you can target your ads:

  • Geotargeting: Only show your ads to users in certain locations. This is great if you’re promoting an in-person event or offering services to people in a specific area.
  • Ad scheduling: Even if you’ll run your ads 24/7, you can create an ad schedule and pinpoint specific times when your ads perform well. Then, you can adjust your schedule later if you only want to run them during certain times.
  • Device type: You can exclude certain devices from seeing your ads. For instance, tablets usually have lower conversion rates than desktops and mobile devices, and removing them can improve your CTR.

While on this topic, you can also block your competitors from seeing your ads, creating unwanted impressions, clicking on your landing page, and spending your ad grant on inadvertent clicks. You just have to know their IP address or physical location. You can also do this with employees!

23. Conversion Tracking Is Key

NXUnite’s guide to Google Ad Grants explains that conversions are commonly associated with sales and similar for-profit activities. However, a conversion can be any action that a user takes that your nonprofit deems as meaningful. For example, a conversion could be someone:

  • Signing up for a newsletter
  • Calling your office
  • Registering for an event
  • Donating
  • Spending a minimum amount of time on your site

Tracking meaningful conversions is now mandatory for all grantees. Make sure your account is compliant by tracking the most useful actions for your campaigns and making sure you’ve set up your conversion goals within Google Analytics properly.

But it’s not just a policy: knowing which conversions resulted after a user clicked your ads gives both you and Google a concrete idea of the value the Ad Grant brings to your organization. And remember, Google requires you to have at least one conversion a month.

24. The Program Is Always Evolving

Google is always tweaking its policies and best practices, and they’ll continue to evolve as technology and markets change. It’s important to stay on top of policy changes to make sure your account is compliant and successfully driving the right users to your website.

For instance, here are some of the changes that the Google Ad Grant team has implemented over the years:

This timelines outlines the changes made to the Google Ad Grants program over the years.

  • March 2003: Google launched the Ad Grants program in the U.S.
  • January 2013: Google added the $2 max cost-per-click bid limit and changed the ad auction to place Paid ads above Grant ads.
  • September 2013: Google launched AdWords Express (now called Smart Campaigns) for grantees in the U.S., UK, Canada, and Australia which enabled automated campaigns.
  • August 2014: The Google Ad Grants team updated the active account management policy to require grantees to sign in at least once per month.
  • September 2016: Google stopped accepting applications for the Google Ad GrantsPro program, which provided grantees with more funding.
  • January 2018: The Google Ad Grants team launched its new compliance policies to ensure that nonprofits were making the most of the program.

Where can you keep up with these changes? Google rolled out an Account Review Dashboard that lets grantees keep track of account compliance in a single interface in 2019. We recommend reviewing it at least once a week and using this Account Review Dashboard guide to understand the results.

25. Google Is Really Passionate About The Program

Google really cares about this program, and it shows in the numbers. Since 2003, Google has awarded more than $10 billion in free advertising to more than 115,000 grantees across 51 countries.

But beyond the statistics, Google has a team dedicated exclusively to Google Ad Grants that’s always finding ways to improve the program and help nonprofits grow. That’s why they developed a set of compliance rules and offer free resources to help nonprofits get more out of the program.

Final Thoughts on Google Ad Grants

The Google Ad Grants program is an incredibly useful resource for nonprofits that are looking to take their digital marketing up a notch. However, there are lots of intricacies about the program that nonprofits might find hard to fully understand.

We’re huge believers in helping nonprofits find and use available resources to improve their marketing efforts and grow their impact. By busting some myths and clarifying the grey areas, we hope your nonprofit will have the expectations, understanding and confidence to apply for the Google Ad Grant and make the most of all that the program has to offer.

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