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What’s the best marketing strategy for Google Ad Grants?

If you’re reading this, you’re probably already aware that Google offers nonprofit organizations up to $10,000 per month in search advertising through its Ad Grants program. This is a tremendous benefit when building a multichannel marketing plan with tight budgets and margins, but to truly get the most value out of Google Ad Grants, you need to execute the proper strategy.

While it’s difficult to find fault with free money (yay!), Google Ad Grants does have its limitations. In order to build a strong and effective marketing strategy, you should also consider paid search efforts in your advertising budget equation. The key to an effective digital marketing strategy is to find the right balance between the two.

Read on to learn how to utilize the strengths of each to build a full, well-rounded nonprofit marketing strategy.


Not to burst your bubble, but Google Grants have a few drawbacks that you need to understand as you implement your marketing plan:

  • Budget restrictions: With Google Ad Grants, you’re unable to exceed $329 per day in bidding, which works out to a $10,000 monthly budget – assuming you’re hitting that $329 each day. If you’re not getting enough clicks and you only hit $200 one day, you can’t average that out with $458 the next day.
  • Cost-per-click cap: For most automatic bids, the maximum cost-per-click allowed for your keywords is $2. This makes it more of a struggle to compete with people using Google Ads, as some keywords can cost up to 10 times as much! Depending on the competition around your choice of keywords, others may outbid you for the spots you really want.
  • Text-based ads only: Display advertising can be a potent weapon in a holistic multichannel marketing approach, but the Ad Grants budget is limited to text-based advertising on Google search results pages. In order to utilize display ads, you will need to invest a portion of your budget to the Google Display Network or on social media through a Facebook Business account.
  • Below paid ads: When it comes to ad auctions, not all bids are equal. First, Ad Grants will only enter an auction if there is inventory remaining. Even then, Grant ads will always appear below paid ads. This means if a Grantee has a $1 bid for one keyword and a paying advertiser also has the same bid for the same keyword, then the paying advertiser will win the auction and appear before the Grantee’s ad.


With these limitations in mind, let’s begin fine-tuning your Ad Grants strategy. If you’ve run into any of these problems with Google Ad Grants, here are a few easy ways to utilize your budget to its fullest advantage:

  • Implement different bidding strategies: Depending on your organizational goals, there are “smart” bidding strategies You can remove the $2 bid cap through like Maximize Conversions, Target CPA or Target ROAS. However, you must set up proper conversion tracking to use these bidding strategies.
  • Make Quality Score a main focus: With Ad Grants, quality over quantity is key, so focusing on your Quality Score is a goal you should aim for. A higher-quality ad can lead to lower cost-per-clicks and better ad positions.
  • Keep testing ads: Never be afraid to experiment with different ad copy to see what works with your ads and what doesn't. Build different ads and test them out to compare results.

Simply put, don’t just “set it and forget it.” For example, when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in 2017, we worked with the Houston Food Bank to rapidly optimize their Ad Grants account to capture the increased search interest surrounding the disaster relief efforts. As a result, the Houston Food Bank received 12 times the donations, allowing them to support their community during a time of need.

Once your Ad Grant strategy is set in place, paid search can step in and provide the missing pieces to your strategic marketing puzzle.


You may have certain search terms that are vital to your fundraising efforts, but you simply can’t seem to gain any traction on them through Google Ad Grants. This is where Google can help. Investing some of your budget toward paid search efforts can help fill in the gap for these crucial keywords that your Ad Grants campaign misses.

Also, some nonprofit marketers may not realize that paid search efforts extend beyond Google – don’t forget about Bing! You might think, “Do people really even use Bing?” The answer is yes – a lot more than you may realize. There are several audiences who find Bing as their go-to search engine over Google.

Bing offers some surprisingly effective benefits as a paid search source – not as a replacement for, but in addition to using Ad Grants and Google . Here are some ways Bing’s Microsoft Advertising can help enhance your approach:

  • Reach a larger total audience: When you advertise on this platform, your ad will be seen on all of the Microsoft-owned search engines, including Bing, Yahoo and Apple’s Siri. Bing holds roughly 30 percent of the search traffic in the U.S., so it’s definitely worth the effort.
  • More unique searches: Bing ads reach 162 million unique searchers on their network, giving you a fairly wide audience to work with.
  • Less competition, less expense: Since there are fewer people bidding on Bing Ads, you have a greater chance of getting the highest bid. Click bids averaged $7.99 when using Bing Ads and $20.08 when using Google Ads. Therefore, you won’t use as much of your advertising budget if you use Bing as your paid search option.


Free money from Google is a terrific starting point for your digital advertising plan, but don’t stop there. By utilizing both Google Ad Grants and paid search on separate platforms, you can build a well-rounded and balanced strategy.

With more of a focus on quality keywords and testing, your Ad Grants account can reach a wide portion of your target audience, while your Google Ads, Microsoft Advertising and Facebook Business accounts reach the remaining audience. Combining the two approaches and focusing them in your digital fundraising strategy can help spread your message to a vast network of potential donors.


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Shane Thornal

Shane Thornal is an experienced leader within the digital landscape and serves as Senior Director, Digital Media, at RKD Group. Shane understands programmatic media buying and knows what questions to ask to drive campaigns forward. He is a strategic thinker, focused and extremely hard working. Shane understands how to build high-performing teams, has great industry knowledge and knows the triggers to pull to get the best out of everyone. He is driven and dedicated to his clients’ goals and objectives, and will not rest until they are achieved.

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