How to Use Google Ads to Get More Donations for Your Nonprofit

Using Google Ads to drive donations isn’t something you hear about a lot. 

In fact, I remember when the accepted advice was to never directly ask for donations in a search ad. How times have changed!

Still, many nonprofits today still hesitate to launch digital advertising programs with paid Google Ads accounts. They worry they don’t have the necessary budget, so they limit themselves to a Google Grants account. 

That’s too bad because Google Ads can be a useful advertising platform for nonprofits and a great tool for driving donations. To illustrate, I’m going to describe the advertising journey of one of our nonprofit clients—and uncover lessons you can apply to your own nonprofit.

Why Google Grants alone doesn’t cut it

Like many nonprofits, this client started with a Google Grants account. 

And let me say this: if your nonprofit is doing well with a Google Grants account, then that’s great.

But you may find that Google Grants will only take you so far. Often, the program’s restrictions make it difficult to spend any significant portion of the grant budget. 

That was the case for this client. With the Google Grants program alone, they struggled to get a foothold in a market crowded with pharmaceutical advertisers and larger non-profit organizations.

They needed a different strategy. So they agreed to open a paid, i.e. “normal,” Google Ads account.

This turned out to be a great decision. Recently, we’ve been spending about $5-7K per month on Google search text ads and getting $10-12K in donations in return—something we couldn’t achieve with a Google Grants account.

Lesson: If you’re not succeeding with Google Grants (and even if you are), consider having a concurrent paid Google Ads program.

The limits of any one approach

Our client is thrilled with this return – and so are we. But neither of us wanted to stop there. 

We tried leaning into this strategy, dedicating even more budget to Google text ads. But we couldn’t get a return commensurate with the higher budget. So we needed to find a new approach.

Lesson: Putting more budget into your current approach – no matter how successful – isn’t always the answer. You’re likely to max out at some point.

Look to existing content, especially video

We looked for a new strategy, and that’s when our client’s YouTube channel caught our attention.

Our client already had some great video content. These videos convey the value of their organization more powerfully than any text ad possibly could. So we decided to test video ads. 

The results were impressive, especially around end-of-year giving. 

Last year, we increased ad spend to $15,000 over that period, putting a portion of the additional budget into video ads. We earned over $70,000 in donations. 

With that kind of return, we encouraged the client to invest consistently in video advertising over the entire year to drive more donations year-round.

Lesson: Look at the resources you already have. If you’ve consistently created video content for new and current members over the years, you may already have what you need for a high-impact/low-cost video campaign.

Donations aren’t the only goal

These videos aren’t driving donations, and that’s OK. These campaigns are growing brand awareness, which will help ensure the nonprofit will raise donations and continue its good work into the future. 

And the great news is that these campaigns don’t always require a huge budget. 

For example, for as little as a $300 video push campaign, we’ve driven up to 100,000 impressions and 19,000 video views. Those are significant numbers!

Lesson: Not every advertising dollar has to be tied to a donation dollar. While donations are the end goal, brand awareness has value too. Consider creating an “always on” awareness program with success metrics tied to brand lift. 

Benefiting from unexpected clicks 

With our advertising program in place, we noticed an interesting trend. 

Sometimes, we get donations from people searching for another organization’s name in the same charity space. These people searched for the competitor’s name and decided to donate after viewing our client’s content and videos and learning more about them. 

Why are we benefiting from these competitor searches? We’re not sure, but we can speculate:

  • As far as we know, the competitor isn’t advertising on Google outside of their Google Grants account. Experience has taught us that Google puts paying advertisers ahead of Google Grants advertisers. (In fact, a Google rep once told us as much.) Having a paid account may give us the edge here. 
  • It could be that this competitor needs to do more to build brand awareness and trust. If they did, people might be more determined to seek them out specifically instead of donating to our client.

Lesson: Having a paid Google Ads account may give you the edge when competing against Google Grants accounts.

Stay the course

Naturally, our client has been excited about their success, and they’re motivated to keep testing new themes and ideas. 

We’re big believers in testing, so we love their enthusiasm. But at the same time, you need to give things time to play out – otherwise, it becomes increasingly difficult to determine what is working and what’s not. 

Lesson: Stay focused and consistent. If you test everything all at once, you risk muddying the waters. Take the time you need to accurately assess whether a new theme or approach is a good one.

Plan for the future 

Given the positive impact of YouTube ad campaigns for this nonprofit, we’re already planning our next steps. 

We’re working on an “always on” YouTube campaign featuring videos demonstrating the nonprofit’s value. 

We also list other types of videos we’d like to test. For example, videos that:

  • Feature underserved demographic groups. 
  • Highlight local support groups and seminars.
  • Answer “What is?” and “How to?” questions.
  • Relay stories about the positive impact of the nonprofit’s activities.
  • Describe personal member stories (i.e., similar to customer testimonials).
  • Describe exactly how donations are put to use.
  • Include a Q&A, such as an “Ask an expert” series. 

Lesson: If your existing videos perform well, consider creating and testing videos on different themes and see how they perform.

Google Ads isn’t just for for-profit businesses

Google Ads doesn’t get the attention it deserves from nonprofit organizations, which is too bad. 

Because just like for-profit businesses, Google Ads can also help nonprofits reach their goals and raise brand awareness.

And that’s a very good thing when that means more money for a good cause.

A version of this article was originally published on Search Engine Land.