AdWords is Google’s main source of revenue and a huge percentage of the roughly $50 billion Google earned in advertising in 2013. If I use Google to find reputable charities fighting poverty in San Francisco, my first result will likely be an ad that looks like this:

If you are a non-profit, Google makes this ad space totally accessible to you… for free. Through its Grants program, Google allots up to $10,000/ month in AdWords money to worthy non-profits to raise awareness for their cause. This tool can be an incredible asset to your organization, but the Grants are underutilized and often mismanaged.

We’re here to show you how you can leverage this tool to promote your organization, build email lists, advertise events, recruit volunteers, and much more.

What you need

To qualify for a grant, there are only two things your organization needs: 501(c)(3) status and a website with strong content.

To get a grant, all your organization needs to do is join the Google for Nonprofits program and fill out a short application. You’ll be asked a few questions about your organization’s mission and how AdWords will help you to achieve your goals. The application only takes about an hour and, in most cases, you’ll find out if you’re approved within a few days.

About Google AdWords

AdWords is a very extensive program that allows an experienced user to achieve a level of specification that is impossible in more traditional advertising mediums. It is also a program that can take some time to fully understand.

Here is the basic terminology to get you started:

  • Keyword – A search term for which your ad will appear for
  • Impressions – The number of screens on which your ad appears
  • Clicks – The number of people who click on your ad
  • Cost Per Click – The amount of money it costs every time someone clicks on your ad
  • Quality Score – A 1-10 rating that determines the quality of your ad and the likelihood it will be displayed

“Average Cost-Per-Click” or CPC is of paramount importance to a Grant recipient. An account is only charged when a person clicks on an ad. The more competitive the ad space, the more expensive the CPC.  For example, the Cost-Per-Click for the keyword “Insurance” tops out at $54.91. The maximum amount a Google Grant recipient can bid is $2.00, meaning the CPC cannot exceed $2.00.


This is important. Yes, Google is giving away $10,000 a month. But, Google is still a business, and it has created rules to protect its own revenue at the disadvantage of non-profits utilizing the Grant system.

Non-profits typically use significantly less coveted and expensive Keywords, but the $2.00 limit will still affect your campaign.

Actually spending the allotted budget can be challenging. In fact, the average Google Grant campaign spends just $300 a month, 3% of the entire budget.

You want to be spending as much of your grant as possible. At the end of the day the cost of the campaign is reflected by the amount of people clicking on your ads. If you’re not spending all of your budget, you are missing opportunities to advertise your website. Since it’s not your money, there is no disadvantage to exploring every angle to ensure you’re getting as many clicks as possible.

Overcoming Challenges

The best way to get the most out of a $2.00 maximum bid is with a high Quality Score.  Your Quality Score is affected by your Click-Through-Rate or CTR (the percentage of people who click on your ad), the relevance of your keywords and ad text, as well as a positive landing page experience (the page a person goes to when they click on an ad).

A high Quality Score means your ads will be given a more favorable ad spot, which can significantly lower the cost of your ad. For example, a Quality Score of 10 reduces your CPC by 50%, while a Quality Score of 1 increases your CPC by 400%.

To maximize your quality score, develop a mission for your campaign. Are you hoping to attract volunteers, solicit donations, or just draw attention to your site? Of course, you can do all three and much more, but you need to make sure your website’s content reflects whatever is written on your ads. Your content will have a huge impact on your Quality Score. If the content in your landing page is focused on recruiting volunteers for your cause, your ad text and keywords should focus on volunteers and only volunteers.

You should be maximizing the content you have by creating unique ads and keywords to focus on different pages. This will improve your quality score as your ads will be more relevant and the click-through rate will likely be higher. A classic mistake is to create a few general ads with a ton of keywords, setting the landing page as the home page and hoping for the best.  This means you are failing to capitalize on your content, and also not promoting any specific part of your organization.

If this strategy is implemented and your campaign is still not able to meet its budget, the alternative is to create more content for your website and tailor ads to new pages. This also has the added benefit of improving your sites’ organic search results. But this strategy is time consuming and expensive, and should only be done if a company is very serious about optimizing their web presence.

Final Thoughts

The most important thing to keep in mind is that there is no silver bullet. You’re not going to create a campaign, think of brilliant ads and keywords, spend your $10,000 a month, and bask in your dramatically increased site traffic on your first try. Ad Words is difficult to master, and a great campaign takes time, understanding and constant tweaking. Remember these last words as you embark on your Google Grants Campaign:

  • Your campaign will only be as good as your content.
  • Quality Score is king
  • An acceptable landing page is required for Google to send users to your site.
  • You need enticing ad text to attract people to your ads. Remember, a low Click-Through-Rate will lower your quality score.