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How to Take Advantage of Free Advertising for Your Nonprofit, Part I

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In this two part series, Interactive Director Tony Ferrini explains why nonprofit organizations should apply for a Google grant as well as strategies to maximize the effectiveness of the program.

Do you work for or serve on the board of a nonprofit organization? Does your organization have a website? Did you know that your nonprofit might be eligible for $120,000 in free advertising per year? And if you spend the entire amount successfully, how does upgrading to $480,000 per year in free advertising sound?

It almost sounds too good to be true, right? Well, it’s not. The program is called Google Grants, and it’s a fantastic opportunity many nonprofits are unaware of. Let me show you how it works and answer some basic questions to get people started.

How does it work?

Google Grants provides an advertising grant to use within the Google AdWords program. The initial award is $10,000 per month. You use this grant money to bid on keywords, i.e. ‘world poverty.’ When a Google user searches ‘world poverty,’ your ad appears above or to the right of normal search results (see the example above).

When the user clicks on that ad, they go to a specified page on your site. You pay a portion of your granted money for that click (usually about one dollar). The actual cost for that click to you is zero. Voila! You just introduced someone to your mission. Best of all, if you can maximize the campaign, you’ll get $120,000 worth of free advertising every year. Even if you hire a consultant to manage the program monthly, you’ll get an ad value ROI of roughly 10 ­’“ 20 times what you spend. And you’ll be introducing your mission to thousands of people who never even knew you existed.

Why aren’t more nonprofits taking advantage of this opportunity?

In my experience about 50 percent of the time a nonprofit is completely unaware of this opportunity. The other 50 percent of the time an organization is aware of this opportunity but struggles with results. I can think of at least two incidents, where an organization applied for and received a Google Grant, used the program for a while, but then concluded ‘it doesn’t seem to be worth the time’ because the results were minimal.

When done correctly, a basic Google Grant has the potential to deliver 10,000 or more new visitors to your website each month. This is a significant number of new visitors to a website of any size and is often a boon to the average nonprofit. Attaining this kind of traffic any other way can be either expensive or time-consuming.

Nonprofits that are able to take full advantage of this initial grant amount await an even greater reward. If you are able to utilize 95 percent of the grant money through a successful keyword campaign in any two of the past 12 months, you qualify for Google Grantspro. This program quadruples the grant award to about half a million dollars per year.

To attain a Grantspro award requires a serious commitment from the organization. You must demonstrate advanced knowledge of the AdWords platform — meaning that you not only manage your keywords and ad groups, but also demonstrate the ability to track conversions. Google also requires all Grantspro applicants to take and pass an advanced test with a score of 85 percent or better.

Can we manage this ourselves, or do we need to hire someone?

It isn’t necessary to hire a Google AdWords expert to run a successful campaign, but experience has shown that hiring an AdWords professional will help you take full advantage of the program. To put this into perspective, let me give an example:

In a recent campaign, a nonprofit client applied for and received a Google Grant. The client managed the campaign internally with some success for about six months, but only managed to spend a few hundred dollars of the grant. The client decided to invest a few thousand dollars to hire PartnersCreative in order to take advantage of more of the grant money. After the first year, the campaign provided $70,000 in free advertising. This example does a good job illustrating the value of a hired professional.

This is where we’ve noticed nonprofits tend to fall short:

1. Struggles with the application process, which requires creating example ads for approval.
2. A lack of understanding of how to determine effective keywords and ad copy, resulting in low click-through rates.
3. Low click-through rates that diminish the quality score and eventually push ads out of visibility.
4. Improper organization and a lack of understanding in properly structuring ad groups.
5. Failure to commit staff to ongoing maintenance of the account that, according to Google, could jeopardize the grant by the ‘account being automatically canceled.’

Many nonprofit budgets are tight, so it might not be practical to hire someone to help right away. Managing pay-per-click advertising is not rocket science, but it does take a commitment to regular account management. If you decide to apply for and manage a Google Grant internally, be sure to read the ‘Ongoing Management Guide‘ from Google that helps new users to the program.

Stay tuned for the second installment of this article on strategies to maximize your nonprofit’s Google Grant.

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