Google Grants vs. Paid Search Campaigns

Sometimes otherwise smart fundraising consultants give bad advice.

I saw that happen last week. A senior-level consultant from a typically reputable fundraising agency completely missed the mark on digital strategy.

In this instance, a local social service nonprofit was told that because they secured a Google Grant of $10,000 per month, they should no longer invest in paid search engine marketing (SEM).

Here’s why this is dangerous advice…

Google Grants work well to supplement paid search campaigns, but by themselves, the grants simply can’t deliver the kind of revenue and growth that paid search efforts can.

In fact, the average nonprofit is only able to spend 3% – 10% of their $10,000 monthly grant allotment from Google.

There’s a reason nonprofits are only able to use (on average) 3% of their grant budgets. It’s extremely difficult to maximize the value of a Google Grant because in that program Google caps the cost-per-click that organizations are allowed to bid for keywords. In most instances (especially during the critical months of November and December), capping your cost-per-click bid at $2 won’t even get your organization onto the first page of Google search results!

Organizations that are investing in paid search can outbid you for top placement on the exact same keywords that you’re trying to bid on within your grant program. You’re capped at $2 per click, but a paid campaign can spend $3 or $4, beat you out for placement, and capture those $150, $200, and $500 gifts while you’re sidelined from the process because your grant account won’t let you increase your investment.

From where I sit, there’s huge value in being willing to pay $3-$4 to acquire donors at $150+ average gift.

There’s a second problem with relying exclusively on a Google Grant. If you take this route, your ads will only appear on Google specifically. They won’t show up on any of the Google partner networks, nor will they show up on Bing or Yahoo. In total, that’s 40%-50% of all Internet search traffic that you’ll be shut off from. Again, this is an especially big problem in the last quarter of the year when over 30% of all online giving happens.

The solution is to run a Google Grant account alongside a paid search account so that you get the benefit of both.

In fact, I work with dozens of nonprofits that do this, and they routinely see returns of 2:1 or better (some as high as 8:1 – 12:1). These local social service organizations are generating anywhere from $25,000 – $350,000 in direct revenue from their search campaigns. But the vast majority of that revenue is coming from paid search, NOT from their Google Grants.

By maintaining a Google Grant alongside your organic and paid search efforts, you’ll increase brand visibility while improving conversion and driving highly qualified, cost-effective traffic to your website.

Bottom line: Don’t accept bad advice like this. And don’t be afraid of paid search. It’s a high revenue, high ROI tactic that delivers donors at insanely large average gifts (for direct response). If you really want to grow your online revenue and supporter base, you need to invest in paid search.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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2 thoughts on “Google Grants vs. Paid Search Campaigns

  1. Hi Andrew,

    Good article. I didn’t think that this was something that some organizations may be doing. Also good point that the grant is only good for Google – you still need to pay to play on Bing, and social channels.

    I look forward to reading a few of your other articles.