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How Nonprofits Can Make the Most of a Google Grant

BY Nick Judd | Tuesday, January 5 2010

When Aaron Friedman found out in November 2009 that his nonprofit, Make Music New York, had won a Google Grant, he was excited.

Then he had to figure out exactly how to use the grant, through which Google gives each qualifying nonprofit in the program up to $10,000 worth of pay-per-click online advertising each month, and the excitement started to dim.

With that $10,000 budget, the marketing director of a nonprofit can buy ad space next to search results for specific keywords — to display an advertisement about research on wind farms, for example, to anyone who searches Google for "wind power." There are more complex ways of targeting an audience, such as by region, and additional control over when ads display, but that's the gist.

"When we submitted what I thought would be workable keywords and messages, they reviewed the submission pretty quickly, in about a week or ten days," said Friedman, whose organization puts together a day of free concerts throughout New York City on June 21 every year. But the application was rejected.

"Their feedback was that the ads did not have a specific call to action," he explained.

For the heads of nonprofits, this is a variation on a familiar theme: Finding oneself with fantastic tool that would be just so useful, if only there was time or money enough to figure it all out. There are consultants who are more than willing to help you pull it all together — for a price — but for Friedman, running a small operation on a limited budget, that seemed like an overkill.

Friedman isn't alone in trying to puzzle through the process of making the most of a Google Grant; for recipients, the learning curve can be steep, but there's plenty of help available — both from Google and from outside groups. If your organization is still trying to figure things out, here's a few tips that might help:

  • Among the Google Grants guidelines is a use-it-or-lose-it clause — Google requires grantees to keep their AdWords accounts active.
  • "The trick to remember is that Google AdWords work when a user is searching for something," Heather Smith, executive director of Rock the Vote, wrote to me in an e-mail. "So the keywords used in your ads must be timely (to reflect what users are searching for online) and relevant (to ensure that the ad - once viewed - gets clicked on)." Smith says Rock the Vote's AdWords campaign on health care increased their overall web traffic by 13 percent over the last four months, and that adWords generated 57 percent of traffic going straight to their health care action center.
  • "The number one mistake ... I think of it as the kitchen sink mistake," said Kevin Gottesman, the proprietor of San Francisco-based Gott Advertising, "which is throwing all of your keywords and all of your ads into one ad group and one campaign." Gottesman, who ran AdWords advertisements in the successful senatorial campaign of Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), said you can get the most out of an AdWords campaign by linking discrete keywords to issue-specific landing pages. "The reader doesn't care about your organization, he cares about the topic," Gottesman said, adding that Google Analytics allows you to find out which keywords and topics are getting the most traction — and with whom.
  • Google is trying to flatten the Google Grants learning curve by releasing case studies and testimonials, responding to queries on a special Google Grants forum and regularly updating a blog with tips and best practices.
  • Gottesman admits that hiring one of his ilk might be too much for a small or highly regional organization — but for a national organization, he says, shelling out some money for two or three months of optimization and training would be a worthwhile endeavor.

For more information on the Google Grants program, you can also check out its homepage.