Did you know Google gives qualifying nonprofits $10,000 worth of free Google ads each month? It sounds almost too good to be true, but rest assured, the Google Ad Grant program is not only legitimate, but it’s also simple to navigate the application process.

This guide will get you up to speed on the basics and help you get the ball rolling if you decide to apply.

What are Google Ad Grants?

Google issues $10,000 in in-kind Google Ads advertising every month to eligible nonprofits who have gone through the application process. The ads appear next to Google search results when users search for nonprofits similar to yours.

Google Ad Grant advertisements include two significant restrictions versus paid Google advertisements:

  1. The ads are entirely text-based — there is no support for videos or images.
  2. The ads only appear on Google search results pages, below paid ads.

You can use Google Analytics to optimize your campaigns. These tools give you insight into how many times your ads have been viewed and clicked. You can evaluate which keywords to use and figure out which ads drive in more donations and volunteers.

What is eligible for a Google Ad Grant?

Google supplies Ad Grants to more than 20,000 nonprofits across more than 50 countries.

The primary qualification for grant eligibility is that you need to be a nonprofit and hold “current valid charity status in your country.” In the U.S., that means you need to hold 501(c)(3) status. Google provides information for nonprofits located in other countries on this list of eligibility guidelines.

Google lays out several exceptions to this overarching requirement. Unfortunately, if your nonprofit status falls into one of these categories, you are not eligible:

  • Hospitals and healthcare organizations — however, healthcare-oriented nonprofits like breast cancer research or autism support do qualify
  • Government entities or organizations
  • Schools, academic institutions, and universities — however, charitable arms of educational institutions do qualify
  • Nonprofits based in a country where Google doesn’t administer Ad Grants (check here)

Eligible nonprofits must agree to Google’s required certifications about nondiscrimination and receipt documentation. Google also requires that nonprofits have a valid website with “substantial” content.

How to apply for a Google Ad Grant

Applying for a Google Ad Grant is straightforward and fast. You can do it in as little as four steps.

1. Register with TechSoup

Register and validate your nonprofit with TechSoup, a nonprofit that connects other nonprofits with affordable tech resources from corporations like Google. You’ll need to work through a quick registration process and wait for TechSoup to validate your organization.

Once TechSoup issues you a validation token — a string of numbers and text — keep it somewhere safe. You’ll need it in the next step.

2. Enroll in Google for Nonprofits

If you don’t already have an account with Google for Nonprofits, sign up here. You’ll need a few pieces of information to enroll:

  • Your tax ID number or employer ID (EIN)
  • Your TechSoup validation token

Expect to receive approval from Google within a few days by email.

3. Complete the Google Ad Grant process

The Google Ad Grant application is a multi-step process. The steps are straightforward, but be sure to pay close attention to all the instructions, so you don’t have to backtrack to fix errors.

Create a Google Ads account

Go to the Google Ads enrollment page and complete the application. Don’t add payment info at any point in the enrollment, or Google will sign you up for a standard paid account.

Submit the pre-qualification survey

Take Google’s pre-qualification survey. This should take about 10 minutes. It gives Google a good sense of your organizational goals.

Complete an Ad Grant training

Every nonprofit applying for a Google Ad Grant must complete Google’s Ad Grant training. Google requires you to watch a five-minute training video and pass this quiz.

The primary purpose of the video is to make sure you understand Google’s guidelines, including policy requirements. You’ll also pick up a few tips about managing your Ad Grant account and about Google Ads generally.

Submit for pre-qualification review

At this point, Google asks you to submit your “shell account,” survey responses, and training results. To complete this step, sign in to your Google for Nonprofits account and click “Activate” within the Google Ad Grants menu.

Next, enter your Google Ads Customer ID. Answer the question, “How did you hear about Google Ad Grants?”

Finally, submit your account by clicking on the “Enroll” link.

It will take Google up to five business days to get in touch about your pre-qualification submission.

4. Set up your first campaign

When you’re officially pre-qualified, you can set up your first campaign. If you’re new to Google Ads, follow Google’s guide for setting up a smart campaign. If you’re more experienced, you can set up your campaign using this expert activation guide.

5 ways nonprofits can get the most from Google Ad Grants

Once Google gives you the go-ahead, spend some time learning how to get the most from your Ad Grant and how to stay on Google’s good side. These five tips are a good start.

1. Start with keyword research

To get your ad in front of the right people, you need to know what keywords they are using in their Google searches. Use Google Ads’ Keyword Planner to see how many people search for a term along with related phrases they tend to use.

Think broadly when you conduct keyword research. You could set up ads for every activity and focus your nonprofit has, but this won’t be as effective as figuring out what terms people use when trying to find information about your focus.

2. Remember Google Ads generate clicks, not brand awareness

It’s important to create campaigns focused on the right keywords because Google will stop showing ads that get few clicks. They could even penalize your account if you have an overall low click-through rate.

Don’t go into the process thinking that the ads will raise awareness, even if they don’t lead to conversions. This might be true to some extent, but your grant won’t last long if you take this approach.

3. Don’t use too many keywords

Though it may feel tempting to add as many keywords as you can dream up, two or three keywords is plenty per ad group. Google is punitive when ads or websites appear to be using keyword stuffing tactics. Use Google’s Broad Match Modifier to find the right combination of keywords.

4. Don’t “set it and forget it”

Google requires you to log into your Google Grant Ads account regularly and maintain a minimum click-through rate. Google doesn’t allow you to use global targeting, either. You’ll need to focus on specific geographical regions, which may shift from time to time. Don’t lose your account due to neglect.

5. Don’t use competitor names

Google does not allow Ad Grant recipients to use competitor brand names in their advertising. For example, Google would not permit you to use a keyword phrase like “charities like the Red Cross” to advertise for your disaster relief nonprofit.

Ready to apply for your Google Ad Grant?

Provided you play by Google’s rules and complete all the steps, there’s a good chance Google will approve you for an Ad Grant. Once you’re up and running, remember that your goal is to increase your click-through rate through smart keyword research.