Since 2003, Google Ad Grants has given over $9 billion in free advertising to over 115,000 nonprofits in more than 50 countries. The program is led by Michelle Hurtado, who started her career working in nonprofit communications and saw how online ads level the playing field and give smaller organizations a voice. Now her global team helps nonprofits raise awareness, attract donors, and help people around the world.
AFP Global spoke with Hurtado about Google’s commitment to supporting nonprofits, the value of online marketing in fundraising and more.
AFP: Can you give a high-level overview of Google’s work with nonprofits and commitment to the sector?
As a company, Google is rooted in improving the lives of people around the world through better access. Nonprofits play such a critical role in our communities, so naturally, we bring the best of Google to support them, offering products, people, and philanthropy. For example, we amplify the vital work of nonprofits by offering numerous useful products for free, including Ad Grants. We have a robust model of employee engagement and offer thousands of hours of skilled volunteering. And we have a philanthropic arm which funds innovative projects that create a world that works better for everyone.
I can also give you a sense of our commitment through Ad Grants’ story. Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Google Search is critical in this. We saw how effective ads on Google Search results pages were and started Ad Grants so that resource strapped nonprofits could have good access to share information on Google.com.
We’ve now been giving free Google Search ads for 16 years, directly in alignment with Google’s mission. We hope that we’re helping nonprofits grow with Google: by supporting nonprofits to raise awareness, get people involved, and fundraise, we help scale their impact.
AFP: How does online marketing help nonprofits?
People go online to learn, discover, find, and act. There are now four billion Internet users worldwide, and the proliferation of mobile devices means we are constantly connected. For nonprofits, this represents a huge opportunity to educate people, introduce them to resources, answer their questions, and show them how to get involved. By establishing a strong online presence, nonprofits can connect with people and share their story with the world.
Marketing online helps nonprofits reach huge audiences. Google.com processes billions of searches per day. It also provides an opportunity to deliver highly targeted messages—ads that answer a person’s question on Google Search. It’s also incredibly measurable against a range of goals nonprofits care about. And lastly, it’s highly responsive and ads can go live in a few minutes, which helps nonprofits contribute to topics in the news, if they’re ready.
Fundraising is also growing online. Independent studies indicate that the majority of donors now prefer to give online—this holds across age demographics and will likely grow over time. There’s opportunity online to not only increase donations but also to diversify donor bases.
AFP: How does Google Ad Grants fit into an organization’s online marketing strategy?
I believe Ad Grants is incredibly valuable to nonprofits, offering up to $10,000 per month in free Google Search ads. It offers nonprofits a presence online and introduces many to the power of online ads. Ad Grants should be a part of a comprehensive digital strategy including email marketing, videos, display ads, social media, as well as paid search ads to expand what’s working well in Ad Grants.
AFP: Many of our members don’t think of themselves as marketers. From your perspective, what is the difference between marketing and fundraising? How does an investment in marketing align with fundraising?
Marketing and fundraising go hand in hand by introducing people to your organization and engaging them to become direct supporters. Marketing casts a wider net and Google Search offers tremendous reach to connect to people. Once they’re aware, fundraisers can start cultivating through events, email, and outreach. Fundraisers can test messaging online and use marketing performance data to identify new audiences and effective engagement paths that lead to donations.
AFP: What types of nonprofits are most successful with Google Ad Grants?
We are proud to serve nonprofits of all shapes and sizes at varying levels of comfort with online ads. But two things come to mind for success with Ad Grants:
First, a high-quality website. With the power of the internet at their fingertips, consumers are more curious, demanding, and empowered than ever before. They expect clear, personalized answers instantly. Websites that are easy on the eyes, load quickly, and are structured well to lead people to a clear, actionable goal on each page are far more successful with online ads. If not, people are likely to bounce off a website quickly and onto the next website that can satisfy their demands.
Second, nonprofits who have a clear online goal and refresh their ads are able to improve ad performance. There’s a lot of information offered in an Ad Grants account which can be used to better reach goals. But if an organization’s main goal is simply to drive traffic to their website, and the website doesn’t go much beyond getting clicks to their site, then people may bounce off the website without taking meaningful action.
Keeping content fresh and actively managing Ad Grants towards goals is critical. If feasible for an organization, Ad Grants partners with agencies and consultants in our Certified Professionals Community who are dedicated to nonprofits and well versed in Ad Grants ads.
AFP: What are your top tips for success for effective online marketing?
Whether a nonprofit is brand new to online marketing or already feels pretty comfortable, I have a few recommendations: First, define goals and success metrics. What are the few things your organization wants people to do when they come to your website, and how will you know when they did so?
Second, make your organization's website a priority. Structure the website around key goals and ensure each webpage has a clear call to action. Make the user experience easy and mobile friendly—and always refresh content often.
Next, set up free Google Analytics to understand what happens on your website and link goals to your Ad Grants account. The first will help you understand who views what content, and the latter will help you improve your ad performance. Then, have a dedicated owner who can be proactive with new ads: learn from user experience on your website, test new ads, be ready to respond to current events and seasonality like Giving Tuesday.
Lastly, I’d be remiss not to mention that Ad Grants can’t cover all online ad opportunity. Grantees can get to know online ads through Ad Grants and learn about what’s worth investing more in. Ad Grants offers Search ads on Google.com after paying advertisers, so investing in some paid ads extends your reach significantly and has additional features to market specifically to your supporter lists or show compelling image and video ads to drive retention and advocacy.
AFP: What support do you make available for Ad Grants Grantees?
We offer a range of support options for our Grantees because successful online marketing takes commitment, and we want to help nonprofits achieve their goals online. A few support options to note:
YouTube Channel: We host educational webinars and videos on a variety of topics including how to raise ad quality or how to select keywords.
Certified Professionals Community: We recommend professionals who specialize in nonprofits and Ad Grants.
Nonprofit Marketing Immersion: Ad Grants partners with university professors and their students who are studying digital advertising to help nonprofits without charge as part of their hands-on learning.
Community Forum: We have an active online forum to answer questions and discuss recommendations. We post announcements there, such as conferences the Ad Grants team is attending or workshops we’re hosting.
Google Ads customer support line: Our Grantees can also leverage the Google Ads support line for help. The number is 1-866-2GOOGLE.
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