Podcast Transcript: How Using Google Grants Helps Your Nonprofit Reach New Heights

August 19, 2021

JILLYN: Hi, I’m Jillyn, founder and executive director of Technology Aloha, and I’m here today to talk about Google Grants for nonprofits. We have an extra special podcast today. I’m here today with Simon and Jess, friends from a group called SocialSEO.

Google Ad Grants with Social SEO

Jessica is the manager in the Search Engine Marketing (SEM) department. She has developed successful, ROI-focused SEM campaigns for nonprofits as well as national brands across Google ads and Microsoft ads.

Simon is a digital marketing consultant with more than 10 years of experience in business intelligence, marketing strategy, and digital marketing. He spends his time at SocialSEO collaborating with business owners like me to help them understand digital marketing and develop a strategy that is optimal for their businesses.

SIMON: Thank you so much for the introduction, Jillyn. We look forward to having a chat with you about Google Grants and how it can really be a good fit for helping nonprofits.

JILLYN: I think it’ll be really helpful for our listeners. Thank you so much for joining us. And with that, let’s get started. So Jess, to start out with: What is Google grants?

What is Google Ad Grants?

JESS: Google Ad Grants is a program started by Google in 2003 for nonprofits. Their goal is to provide nonprofits with up to $10,000 in advertising money for free that they would never otherwise have access to. This helps level the playing field for nonprofits when it comes to advertising on search engine results on Google that they would otherwise not have the ability to do. Since then, Google updated the program and put in some restrictions. But in 2020 alone, they provided more than $1 billion in free advertising for nonprofits worldwide.

JILLYN: That’s amazing.

JESS: Yeah, it is incredible. So again, up to $10,000 in ad spend per month — forever. There is no limitation to this. Another really interesting thing about the Google Grants Program is: if a nonprofit qualifies, they get it. There is no lottery, no pool of limited grants available. If you’re eligible, you get them and then you get to keep them and stay in the program forever. As long as you abide by the rules.

JILLYN: And when you say abide by their rules, what kind of rules are we talking about?

JESS: To start with, there are qualification rules, so if you want to get approved, you must be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, so you can’t have that government funding. You can’t be like a public library. In general, hospitals, certain schools and colleges, and government agencies do not qualify for the Google Grant Program. Once you are approved actually running the Google ad grants, there is a long process where you have to make sure that you run the ads in the way that Google likes. So, you must meet certain Google standards for account structure, conversion, and tracking and then performance metrics like click-through rate and quality score on the ads themselves.

JILLYN: And on the $10,000 a month front, do they have to use all of that budget every single month? That sounds like a lot of advertising for some of the smaller nonprofits.

JESS: Yes, it is a lot. And no, absolutely not. The $10,000 a month spend is a ceiling. So, a typical nonprofit, a small local nonprofit, for example, may very well only spend $400-$800 dollars in free advertising every month. And that’s totally fine.

JILLYN: And so, on the ad budget front, is that one of the things that helps a nonprofit decide whether or not the Google Ad Grants Program is a good fit for them?

JESS: No, really, the limitation for them has more to do with what their goals are and whether or not the Google Ad Grant is a good program and a good fit for them. So, if a really small local nonprofit — and we work with plenty here in Colorado Springs. If they are not comfortable going national, really pushing hard with their advertising, they’re not interested in anything like that. Nothing wrong with it. Plenty of nonprofits see fantastic success with an under $1,000 amount spend through the Google Grant Program.

JILLYN: Got it. So, as a nonprofit, because a lot of our listeners are nonprofits—. How do they know whether or not the Google Grants Program is going to be a good fit for their organization?

Is Google Ad Grants Good for You?

JESS: Really good question. Let’s start with who is not a good fit for Google Grant Program. First, if those visibility restrictions so if the nonprofit can’t show in certain areas nearby. They can’t step on other nonprofits toes. They have sort of an agreement there. That would be a good example. If they have “do not compete” agreements within that same market that would really restrict their visibility and Google Ad Grants and it might not be worth the effort. Some of it is compliance, right. If they’re really worried about depending on what the nonprofit serves, a good example would be addiction recovery or suicide prevention. There are some restrictions with Google in those really sensitive areas, even though these are nonprofits who are just trying to help. We can’t target keywords like “suicide” through Google ads. It’s against their own policy. If you do addiction services, there’s a third-party platform that you do have to pay to get into and get verified through. So that’s another restriction that a nonprofit should consider.

JILLYN: Under those circumstances, the return on investment is just unlikely to be worthwhile for the nonprofit.

JESS: Yes, just from a pure labor-intensive standpoint, that would be a lot of work to get the grant program, get in, launch some ads, manage the campaigns, abide by the rules. It might not be worth it for those particular situations.

JILLYN: Now, what if a nonprofit gets into the Google Ad Grants Program and then somehow runs afoul of the rules? What happens? Are they horribly penalized for that?

JESS: They are actually not. So, if you have Google ad grants. You went through the program, you got your own ad account and you got started and you fell out of compliance. What happens is they suspend you so your ads cannot run and you have to go through and fix what’s wrong in the account. Contact Google support and then they’ll reinstate you. No penalty whatsoever other than your ads went down. Usually, the time frame after the account has been suspended is between two and four weeks.

JILLYN: Oh, that’s not very long at all.

JESS: No, it’s really not too bad and there is no three-strike rule. You’re out of the program forever. The Google Ads Program is always available to the nonprofit who gets it.

JILLYN: That’s wonderful. All right. I feel like we went over who this might not be a good fit for, but what about it is a great fit for. Do you have some success stories?

JESS: Yes. So good fits, actually vary widely. And in the right situation, they can be an absolute game-changer. One really good example, there’s a local little church, I guess you could say a little non-denominational spirit center. They use the Google Ad Program to build a huge nationwide subscriber list, over twelve hundred new email subscribers, and counting. So, we use the grant program to grow that email list. As a result, they’ve made thousands in donations, leveraging that email list and pushing these online courses that they now offer, and online sermons and online guided meditation. So, when COVID happened, we suddenly had this huge pool of emails that were generated by Google ads. We also were able to use Google ads itself at a national scale to help people who were stuck at home looking for guided meditations. The result is many thousands of dollars in donations generated by Google ads.

JILLYN: That’s fantastic. And I should point out that one Jess says that it’s local. She’s in Colorado Springs, which is where SocialSEO is based.

JESS: Yes, really good to clarify that, yes, here in Colorado Springs. Another really good example would be a nationwide homeless housing program. They were started back in L.A. only. Since then, they’ve expanded to many other states across the nation. And a big reason is because the Google Ad Grant Program allowed them to greatly increase the reach nationwide and leverage themselves as a big thought provider, really thought leader in permanent supportive housing in the housing first model.

Since we launched the Google Ad Grants for them back in late 2018, they’ve spent over $240,000 in free ad spend through Google. Their exposure since then has grown up. I mean it really blew up. They’re huge now. They’ve supported major donations. Roll out into new cities, a really good awareness play with over 500,000 impressions and over 31,000 clicks from the Google Ad Grants themselves.

JILLYN: That’s an amazing amount of visibility from what is basically a program that Google is making available to them for free.

Free Advertising with Google Grants

JESS: Absolutely. And they are an interesting case where they leverage not just these huge nationwide awareness campaigns. They drive—they use Google ad grants locally as well. So, we have campaigns running for them only in L.A. County to generate new volunteer sign-ups, as well as donations, and awareness of upcoming events. So, we use the Google ad grants program and our local campaigns to run a short-term donation campaign: Giving Tuesday. We also launched one for a fundraising event in L.A. County that sold out and generated $28,000 in donations.

JILLYN: That’s fantastic. And so, when you built these campaigns for a client, do you find that they’re able to reuse them? So, Giving Tuesday, for example, is an event that happens every year. Will you turn that ad campaign off? And then when it comes time to go back into the Giving Tuesday and giving season, you turn it back on with maybe a few tweaks?

JESS: Yes, that’s correct. We can turn these campaigns on and off as needed. We can expand or reduce the location targeting as needed. The things that we cannot do with these ads is: we can’t run any display or YouTube ads. This is for Google text ads only. So that’s probably the greatest limitation that we have with them.

JILLYN: And display ads. Just for clarification are those ads that you see with pictures.

Text Ads Only

JESS: Yes. Those little picture ads that follow you around the Internet, that is something we cannot do with Google Ad Grants. So really, in short, the Google ad grants these accounts, you run them in a very similar way that you would run any other account for a big nationwide brand. Again, you’re just restricted to these text ads that show up in search results. They show up in response to targeted keywords that users type in.

We, the account managers, determine what those keywords are and we can create any limitless number of campaigns. Really, there’s no limit to how many you have running. Same with the ads, the time, the reach. There are no limitations. Really, the only limitation you have is they are text ads only. And you have to meet certain quality metrics from Google ads. That honestly are very achievable. They are not that difficult to reach or maintain.

JILLYN: That’s good to know. So now you also mentioned that there are certain types of organizations that have restrictions or words that they’re not allowed to use those sorts of things. Do you have an example of an organization like that?

Some Restrictions

JESS: A really good example would be a suicide prevention local nonprofit here in Colorado Springs. And we found very quickly that we cannot target the keyword “suicide.” So, if you were to type into Google “suicide help” or “suicide prevention,” our ads are not allowed to show up for those keywords.

That is because Google has a very careful crisis management system or a crisis management policy. So, they cannot allow anyone, nonprofits included, to appear to be profiting off a crisis like suicide or gun violence would be a really good example. So, if you have a gun violence awareness organization, that kind of thing, you’ll find yourself with a lot of restrictions through Google.

JILLYN: I imagine you have to be much more creative with those campaigns.

JESS: Yes. And of course, the suicide prevention nonprofit that we work with, we still have a very successful Google Ad Grant Program with almost 100,000 impressions. Now, since we started very recently just here locally. We just have to be, like you said, a little bit creative with a keyword targeting instead of using words like “suicide.” We can use terms like “depression,” “loneliness,” “sadness,” that kind of thing.

JILLYN: Got it. Interesting. So now, as a nonprofit, when does it make sense to start working with an agency like SocialSEO?

Should I Work with an Agency?

SIMON: That’s such a great question, and there’s never going to be a single answer, of course, as with a lot of these talking points. At the end of the day, it’s a scale question. And as you’ve heard us go through the motions, it’s really is a game of if you qualify, it’s worth giving it a shot. By either self-managed or through a professional agency.

And starting with self-management makes a lot of sense, giving it a go yourself without having the overheads of a management fee from a professional agency. But you may quickly find that either the time you’re putting into it is sort of taking a hit on the organization and/or that it’s getting beyond being something you can manage effectively. And those are two big hints that it might be worth hiring an agency.

I say it’s a scale question in the sense of — if it’s going to generate a return for the organization. That’s obviously something worth engaging in. And if the time for the internal staff is worth offloading to an external agency. Then again, you’ve got a situation when professional management does make a lot of sense. So, at the end of the day, it’s a scale question, but I’d strongly advise anyone that’s eligible to give it a shot yourself. Get that ball rolling. You can always reach out to agencies if it becomes tricky to kind of manage.

It’s also worth pointing out that you can also use a professional agency like us to get you up and running and then take it back. And once it’s already kind of built out, that’s a really common request. And it’s not a bad one. We hear that a lot and we’re very happy to support you. And, of course, also just welcome to reach out. If you’ve got questions, you know, it can be difficult to navigate which form and where am I at in the process. And I’ll often find, you know, what might have been hours of frustration on the client-side, a five-minute conversation with Jess. And we’re able to really accelerate the process for that client by pointing them in the right direction.

So back to your question. There isn’t really a simple answer. I’d say start on your own to everybody that’s eligible. If it’s taking up too much time or you think it’s beyond your scale or if it’s simply going to be an ROI-positive engagement, then it’s definitely worth looking at professional management from someone like SocialSEO.

JESS: Simon brings up a really good point about the eligibility and getting approved for the Google Ad Grants Program. That itself does require a lot of hoops to jump through. It is a fairly drawn-out process. It can take weeks to get done. If you do work with an agency, we can help expedite that process. Fewer headaches for you. But do know that whether you go through an agency or try yourself, it is a matter of weeks before you can get fully approved through Google. And there are hoops to jump through.

SIMON: When you talk about a smaller nonprofit you definitely want to, if you can, take on some of that paperwork yourself rather than paying us to do it for you. Of course, we’re very happy to help. But because a lot of the initial steps require paperwork from the nonprofit anyway, you might as well get that ball rolling.

JILLYN: I was just going to point out that because it is a rather long process, it’s something that nonprofits to get started on right away because we are headed into the giving season, and you want your ads up and running by October at the latest.

JESS: Yes, very good point. Now is the time to get started for the giving season.

Thank You, SocialSEO

JILLYN: All right, so my last thing that I would like to point out is that Technology Aloha has a really great relationship with SocialSEO and that is largely due to Jess and Simon. So, what you guys may not know is that Jess used to be our social media manager. She worked with us for about five years and lived in Hawaii. So, Jess and I know each other very, very well. She introduced me to Simon. And now Simon and I work really closely together.

We have a lot of clients in common. In fact, two of the examples that were given are clients of ours, as well as clients of SocialSEO. So, we really trust them. They do wonderful work. They take great care of our clients. And we miss Jess. But we’re so happy that she found a wonderful home at SocialSEO.

All right, I think that that is probably all the time that we have for today, we’ve included links in the description to several of our blog posts that cover the topics we discussed today, along with some links that Simon and Jess have provided for additional information that you guys might find useful. I’m Jillyn.

JESS: And I’m Jess. Thank you so much, Jillyn, for having us here at SocialSEO join you today.

SIMON: And I’m Simon, thank you so much for letting us join you, Jillyn.

JILLYN: It was definitely my pleasure. Thank you so much for being a part of this podcast and for giving us more information and sharing your expertise with our listeners.

So, like I mentioned, along with the links in the description, we’ve got a link to SocialSEO. They’ve mastered helping nonprofits sign up for Google Grants. There’s also a link to a questionnaire to see if Google Grants is right for your nonprofit.

If you have questions about Google Grants for your nonprofit or have other topics that you want to hear on a podcast, please reach out on social media or contact us at TechnologyAloha.com. Thank you for listening to Into the Inbound with Technology Aloha. We hope we’ve added a little aloha to your day.

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