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2020 year in search: Nonprofit edition

Have you ever seen Google’s annual “Year in Search” report? If not, I encourage you to check it out here.

As I was scrolling through 2020’s trends, two things stood out to me: The world searched “how to donate” twice as much as they searched “how to save money.” And the search term “how to help” was trending at an all-time high.

How to DonateHow to Help

With all of the events that negatively impacted – and are still impacting – the world in 2020, seeing the underlying good reflected through people’s Google searches was a positive note to the end of the year.

This got me thinking: How have Google search trends shifted for RKD Group’s clients this past year? I did some digging to find out.

2020’s Impact on Media

In mid-March of 2020, most of the world was sent to work from home, practice social distancing and largely stay inside. This created an explosion in online activity.

People were scrolling through the internet, scanning social media and streaming shows more than ever before. In March 2020, the U.S. alone spent 215% more time online than in March of 2019. At the same time, Google granted additional funds for Grant accounts actively playing a role in COVID-19 relief.

The increased activity, paired with an increase in spend, resulted in a sharp rise in the results we were seeing for many of our clients’ paid search and Ad Grant accounts through Google.

When comparing data for 19 animal welfare clients, 32 food banks and 10 faith-based organizations, we uncovered the following trends. Please note: The solid lines in the charts below reflect 2020 impressions, while the dashed lines reflect 2019 impressions.

Election impacts religious search results

For faith-based organizations, brand campaigns typically focus on users looking for religious support or information about the organization’s mission. When compared to 2019, brand-related search impressions were up 80%, with spikes around the start of COVID in March and at Easter in April.

But the most interesting trend we saw from this data was the dramatic increase in impressions in response to the announcement of the presidential election results. On Saturday, November 7, impressions totaled 21,875 - up from 2,299 that same time in 2019.

Faith based_election results


Animal fostering grew in popularity

With Americans spending more and more time at home, the number of people looking to foster a pet began to rise the week of March 16, flatten through the summer and pick back up in the fall, following a similar pattern to lockdown and COVID restrictions.

Trending search terms in this category included phrases like: “where to foster a pet” and “how to foster a pet.” Compared to 2019, clicks grew by 199% and donations rose by 128%. We saw similar growth in search terms related to adopting pets, too.

Animal welfare_fostering results


Volunteering begins to fluctuate

It probably comes as no surprise to learn that those searching for opportunities to volunteer dropped in 2020. With social distancing, stay-at-home orders and the spread of the pandemic, in-person activities like volunteering at a nonprofit took a backseat this year.

However, it’s still interesting to note the differences in search volume for volunteers at animal welfare organizations compared to food banks.

Overall, animal welfare organizations saw a steady drop in the number of people looking to volunteer at their organizations, beginning with the start of the pandemic. When compared to 2019, the number of impressions served for this segment of search terms dropped by 64%.

Animal welfare_volunteering results

But when we look at food banks, we see a slightly different story. Although search traffic still dropped compared to 2019, the impact was not as extreme, with impressions declining by 19% year-over-year. And, unlike with animal welfare organizations, we actually see search volume surpass 2019 in the summer months.

This underscores the tremendous need food banks experienced this year and likely correlates to the amount of coverage and awareness food banks were receiving throughout social media and in the news.

Food banks_volunteering


Food assistance at an all-time high

While donations to food banks reached unprecedented highs, so did the need for food assistance throughout the country. This is reflected when we look at search trends for terms like “soup kitchens near me,” “do I qualify for food stamps” and “food help near me.”

This bucket of search terms saw the biggest increase of all – with a 148% increase in calls and 187% increase in clicks.

On a brighter note, we also saw donations made from food assistance search terms rise by 1,465%.

Food banks_food assistance results

2020 was a wild ride, and the impact that current events have had on nonprofit search terms is far from over. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, it will be interesting to see how these trends shift as searchers continue to look for ways to help their communities.

Want more? Check these out:

Ashley Walker

Ashley oversees PPC and Google Ad Grant efforts at RKD Group, helping manage how we optimize conversions across our client's marketing platforms. Ashley is actively involved as an ambassador for the Ad Grant Certified Professionals, a cohort designed to develop and share best practices across the Google for Nonprofit member community.

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