Using Google Ad Grants as part of digital marketing

The ways that charities operate, reach their audiences, and gain donations have changed dramatically over the last two decades. The Covid-19 pandemic placed increased pressure on the charity sector to get to grips with new technologies. As the rest of the world evolved to adapt to the new restrictions or to overcome the new challenges, it was important to maximise fundraising levels at this crucial time.

With numerous diverse and varied causes to support, the specific difficulties faced by each charity can’t be generalised. However, one overwhelming ripple that has been felt throughout the industry is the ongoing pressure of a widespread digital transformation.

Traditional fundraising or service delivery routes have been disrupted due to stay-at-home orders, causing organisations to ramp up their online presence. However, even before Covid-19, a cultural shift that leaned towards less cash use was sowing the seeds for the current state of play. Now, supermarket coin pots or office cake sales are topped up by virtual crowdfunding platforms and online campaigns. Donations are gathered at the click of a button and having a good website has soared to the top of priority lists for many charities.

Of course, there are pros and cons to this. Moving your efforts online can lead to a far bigger or more targeted audience and when done right, digital fundraising campaigns can be very effective, reaching just the right people at just the right time.

However, this presents the first problem - does your charity or organisation have the right skillset or resources to make the most of digital platforms? The 2021 Charity Digital Skills Report from Skills Platform found that 49% of UK charities were lacking a digital strategy, highlighting just how much work needs to be done in the sector. Success lies in technical competencies that - for many charities and volunteer-led platforms - can be difficult to sustain or source.

The wider marketing mix

A large part of the fundraising process lies in marketing - ensuring enough relevant people learn about the cause or campaign you’re running. This too is now increasingly moving online, appealing to an audience base that “lives” in the virtual world. There are lots of areas to consider, such as social media, creating a content strategy (producing blogs, videos or even audio content, optimised for accessibility), and using the right advertising platform for you.

Not every charity will have the budget needed to secure a prime time television slot or a double page magazine spread. However, thanks to the rise of digital there are other online solutions, such as social media or digital advertisement packages that require smaller chunks of investment yet offer great returns.

Understanding which route is best for you will depend on your campaign, your audience and your objectives. Certainly, investing time and resources into creating a considered strategy will pay off far more than a blind, blanket approach. Word of mouth can be transformative for charities, but if you fail to take technological tools into account and use a blend of online and offline marketing, you could be missing out on a huge opportunity to spread your message further and reach your fundraising targets.

Whether you’re looking for ways to bolster your existing digital marketing strategy or are just in the early stages of your digitisation plans, the Google Ads platform is a great place to start, particularly for charities.

Google Ad Grants explained

Since 2003, search engine giant Google has been helping non-profit organisations take advantage of its advertising tool, via its Google Ad Grants initiative.

The programme is designed to help people connect with causes to make a greater impact on the world. Google provides eligible charities with a grant of £95,000 a year, which is provided to you as credit on its Google Ads platform. These adverts can transform any charity, using clever targeting and data-led intelligence to boost their profile.

Once set up, the adverts appear on relevant Google search result pages. For example, if you’re a local hospice charity, anyone searching for “fun runs in [your area]” or “charities to support in [your area]” will see a short description of your charity at the top of their results, with a link to your website.

Thanks to the grant, this free marketing technique ensures your charity will appear on Google at the exact moment it matters - when a service user, their family or even potential donors are searching for topics related to your cause. It’s a great opportunity to educate people about your mission, recruit volunteers and attract donors to support your charity. This can increase visibility with your key audiences, and often drives conversions.

There is a pre-qualification process to pass when applying for the funding, which I’ll expand on later, and successful charities must meet Google’s eligibility criteria. However, any charity of any size can apply for the grant. Currently, Google works with more than 20,000 not-for-profit organisations across 50 countries and I’d encourage every charity to consider what they could do with this opportunity.

Customising your campaigns

Those who successfully apply for the grant will receive their £95,000 yearly funds as a monthly budget of £7,500. Recipients must then build and manage their own Google Ads campaigns.

These adverts work on a “pay per click” basis, which means that you “bid” on visits to your website each time one of your adverts is clicked. Using the Google Ads platform, you are able to create campaigns based around specific keywords relevant to your charity. Whenever those keywords are searched, the user can then see your website amongst the list of Google search results and, hopefully, choose to click through to you.

Each click will cost a small fee (drawn from your monthly budget), which is unique depending on both the popularity of the keyword and how many other organisations are bidding on the same keyword. Upon exhausting your budget, your ads will no longer be visible to potential users.

This monthly budget can be split up and used on multiple campaigns, or sets of keywords. Sometimes you may want to allocate it equally to each campaign, or give a larger budget to campaigns that are more important for your goals at the time. Taking a tailored approach and reviewing it each month will harness the best results.

Beyond boosting visibility, using Google Ads can gain lots of insight and data about your customer behaviour. Once your ads are live, you can use Google Analytics - a free online service that monitors website traffic - and conversion tracking to understand how your ads are performing, which keywords are the strongest and which ads are driving donations or recruiting volunteers.

This knowledge is extremely valuable, helping to measure return on investment (ROI) and gather information to help you shape your future campaigns.

Some charities have seen website traffic increase by over 500% since using Google Ads, and monthly donation income rise by over 800%. But this isn’t achieved without actively improving campaigns and carefully modifying keywords to get the best “bang for your buck”.

Checking before you apply

Google Ad Grants really is a fantastic initiative for the charity sector. So much so, you might wonder, “why would anyone not be using the tool?”

Though extremely beneficial, there are a number of obstacles to navigate when applying for the grant, which is subject to eligibility and compliance checks. These continue even once you’re given the funds. Indeed, the majority of grants awarded by Google can then be suspended if the organisation fails to follow their guidelines.

Before you apply, it’s important to check whether you’re eligible. Criteria include:

  • Are you registered as a charity with the Charity Commission in England and Wales?
  • Is your charity’s income over £5,000?
  • Do you satisfy the definition of a “charity” in accordance with the Charities Act?
  • If you’re based in Scotland, do you meet the “Charity Test” as set out by OSCR, the Scottish Charity Regulator?
  • Organisations must acknowledge and agree to Google’s required certifications regarding non-discrimination and donation receipt and use.

Lots of information

The final criteria charities need to meet to gain initial Ad Grant approval is to have a high quality website that meets the Ad Grants website policy. If so, you can begin the process of applying. It requires lots of information, and you’ll need to gather supporting evidence that proves claims, such as your financial status. Approval can take many weeks, so ensure you have the time available before starting the application, and that your website is robust.

If you’re a charity looking to scale up, or just need to find a way to improve your online marketing, there are lots of reasons why Google Ads could be the right platform for you. Follow these steps and you soon could be excelling in the digital space, but it’s worth making sure you can invest the necessary resources before beginning the application.


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