How to Get Started Using Google Ad Grants with $0 Invested – Step-by-step to $10,000 in free ads

What is the Google Ad Grant program?

Since 2003, Google has provided $10,000/month of in-kind advertising to nonprofits. It is one of the most widely available grants available in the nonprofit world, and probably the best advertising-specific grant available. Your organization needs to meet just two requirements:

  • Recognized by the IRS as 501c3, formed for charitable, educational, religious, scientific, or other tax-exempt purposes.
  • Not a Government entity, hospital, medical group, school, academic institution, or university (a nonprofit charity under the umbrella of an academic institution can be accepted)

(If you are based in another country, you can access your local requirements from Google here.)

Now, whether it’s worth your time to try to get results from the Google Grants program is a more nuanced question, which we will answer later in this article.

If you don’t have time to read this article but are curious to know if this program could be good for your nonprofit, take this Google Grants quiz

The quiz will ask some basic questions about your organization and help you know if this program will be worth pursuing!

What is it good for?

The most important factor to consider when looking at any marketing strategy is – what are our goals, and can this strategy help us achieve them?

Therefore, let’s look at the limitations of Google search ads, specifically Google Ad Grants, and then look at the kind of goals this program can help you achieve.

Limitations of Google Grant ads

As a quick overview, here are the main limitations of Google Grants:

  • they are limited by how many searches are made for each keyword you target
  • they cannot (do not) compete against paid ads
  • for competitive keywords, it can be difficult to get your ads to show up (much less get results)
  • they will likely not lead to many immediate new donations or donors
  • they require a lot of planning and management
  • you need quality content on your website and a clear visitor journey to succeed
  • you cannot use Display, or Video ads, you cannot target single keywords, and you must maintain some basic other account requirements

Once upon a time, Google Grants were also limited to a bid limit of $2. This meant that if other advertisers were willing to pay $4 per click, your ads would not likely show up, because they could not compete in auctions where the bids were much higher.

This is no longer true. Now Google allows you to, instead of manually setting your bid price (and maxing it at $2), you can tell Google to bid whatever it wants to, as long as it is likely to lead to a conversion. This bid strategy is called “Max Conversions.” 

Conversions are defined by you and setup on your website, but typically they represent a visitor taking a next step once they land on your site (filling out a form, subscribing, calling, or possibly donating). 

Using the conversions you’ve set up inside your Ad account, Google will put its machine learning (AI) behind your ads: it learn what set of variables brings the most conversions to you (the device, time of day, location, keyword searched, ad seen, landing page, etc), and will adjust your bid for those keywords accordingly. This means that if Google learns a pattern where you consistently get conversions, whenever that pattern repeats itself it will bid higher than $2 to ensure your ad is seen.

We’ve seen clicks inside a Grants campaign as high as $19, even though the manual limit is $2! In other words, if Google is fairly certain your ad will lead to a conversion, it is willing to automatically bid very high to ensure your ad rises to the top of the ad results.

Setting Goals

Through this program, what kind of success can you aim for? In a sentence, Google Grant ads are very effective at helping nonprofits grow their email list. Here’s a full list of goals you can hope to achieve:

  • grow your email list by dozens to hundreds consistently each month with low ongoing effort 
  • bring lots of visitors to your website, content, or events
  • create an audience of website visitors to retarget through other campaigns or platforms
  • attract new volunteers and employee interest/sign ups
  • reach more people or bring awareness of your services 
  • over the long run, grow your donor base or attendance at events

Here are a few goals that are unrealistic to hope for directly from people clicking your ads:

  • A lot of new support for a fundraising campaign
  • Big or first-time donations
  • Attracting people who are generically looking for somewhere to donate
  • Many sign ups for a seasonal, local event (this can happen if the event is already well-known)

How to Get in

We’re going to briefly summarize the main steps to follow to get into Google Grants. 

However, if you take our free quiz, you’ll both find out if the program is worth your time to apply, you’ll  also get a free in-depth checklist guiding you step-by-step through the application process (with screenshots!).

3 Steps to Apply

Step 1) Register with Techsoup (time needed: 5 -10 minutes)

If you don’t have an account with Techsoup, it will take a couple of weeks for them to validate and approve your application.

Step 2) Sign up for Google for Nonprofits (time needed: 5 minutes)

Google uses Techsoup to validate your nonprofit status, so you will actually sign up for this program through Techsoup. When you have your Techsoup account, login and look for a link a the top with the title “Validation Tokens”.

Find “Google Grants” and follow the steps to get a validation token. Techsoup and Google for Nonprofits have integrated this process to make it easy (just follow each of the steps they give you). When complete, you will have submitted your application to Google to enter Google for Nonprofits. 

Step 3) Sign up for Google Ad Grants (time needed: 20 minutes)

When you have your free account with Google for Nonprofits (GfN), you can now sign up for the products that Google provides to nonprofits, including Google Ad Grants.

In the Products tab of your GfN dashboard, you will see “Google Ad Grants” as one of the options. Click the “Get Started” button and follow the instructions and complete the questionnaire.

Once you’ve finished this final application, congratulations! Your part in the application process is done, and now you need to wait a couple of days for Google to review and let you into the program.

How to Get Started with Google Grants

You can always hire an expert or marketing agency, but this article promised to help you get started with $0 invested up front. Therefore, here are the first three things to do:

A. Get an Experienced Campaign Manager

Have someone on your team or find a volunteer who has experience or is willing to learn how to set up and run your campaigns. Try one of the following organizations to find someone with experience:



B. Learn to Do it in-House

If you can’t find a volunteer and don’t have someone in your organization with experience, you can always provide training to learn to do it yourself. The nice thing about Google Grants is that because the ads are free, you can’t really waste money on them! 

Here is one free 8-hour course on how to run Google search ads. It isn’t specific for Google Grants, but it will still take you a long way toward getting started.

C. “Plan B”

If you can’t get a volunteer with experience to be your campaign manager, and no one in your organization has time to learn how, you can use a website like Fiverr or Upwork to hire someone to help you. If you find an expert with great reviews, you can always try them out for a month or two to see how things go for low cost and risk.

In conclusion, if the program seems interesting, take the Google Grants quiz, we’ll send you the checklist on how to apply, and then start working with someone on your team or a volunteer to start growing the reach of your mission or your donor base!

Chris Barlow is the Customer Happiness Director at Beeline, the author of this article, and his team has been helping nonprofits with marketing since 2015. If you’d like to read more articles like this, check out Beeline’s nonprofit marketing blog!