Nonstop Nonprofit

Google Ad Grants: A conversation with the experts at Nonprofit Megaphone

Episode Summary

Grant Hensel · CEO, Nonprofit Megaphone | Today's conversation is an exercise in expertise with Grant Hensel, CEO of Nonprofit Megaphone, a marketing agency focused solely on helping nonprofits get, use, and optimize Google Ad Grants. As Grant himself says, he can't even spell Facebook. But when it comes to Google Ad Grants, he's got answers for days.

Episode Notes

Before we dive in today, we've got two questions for listeners: "Have you ever heard of the Google Ad Grant?" and "Would it positively impact your nonprofit if you could reach more people searching the internet?" Those are the two questions that Nonprofit Megaphone CEO Grant Hensel asked hundreds of nonprofits in 2016.

It's kind of a trick question! Grant explains that the answer to the second question IS the first question, but when 75% of the nonprofits he spoke with had never heard of the Google Ad Grant, that obvious disconnect became the catalyst he needed to build Nonprofit Megaphone, a marketing agency focused solely on helping nonprofits get, use, and optimize Google Ad Grants.

So settle in and listen in to a true master at his craft. Grant will explain what a Google Ad Grant is, at what stage of growth your nonprofit should begin focusing on the grant, and how to identify opportunities that can function as a contributor to your cause as well as a revenue driver—and potentially even a source of long-term support for your nonprofit.

Finally, the bottom line is that Google Ad Grants are about the outcome, not the spend, and Nonprofit Megaphone has the experts to maximize that outcome as well as the data to back up their work.

Episode Transcription

Hello, I'm Justin Wheeler, and welcome to this episode of Nonstop Nonprofit! 

Before we dive in today, I have two questions: “Have you ever heard of the Google Ad Grant?” and “Would it positively impact your nonprofit if you could reach more people searching the internet?” Those are the two questions that Nonprofit Megaphone CEO Grant Hensell asked hundreds of nonprofits in 2016.

It’s kind of a trick! Grant explains that the answer to the second question IS the first question, but when 75% of the nonprofits he spoke with had never heard of the Google Ad Grant, that obvious disconnect became the catalyst he needed to build Nonprofit Megaphone, a marketing agency focused solely on helping nonprofits get, use, and optimize Google Ad Grants.

Today’s conversation is an exercise in expertise: As Grant himself says, he can’t even spell Facebook. But when it comes to Google Ad Grants, he’s got answers for days.

So settle in and listen in to a true master at his craft. Grant will explain what a Google Ad Grant is, at what stage of growth your nonprofit should begin focusing on the grant, and how to identify opportunities that can function as a contributor to your cause as well as a revenue driver—and potentially even a source of long-term support for your nonprofit.

Finally, the bottom line is that Google Ad Grants are about the outcome, not the spend, and Nonprofit Megaphone has the experts to maximize that outcome as well as the data to back up their work.


Justin Wheeler Hey, listeners! So excited for today's episode with Grant, who is the founder and CEO of Nonprofit Megaphone, which we're going to talk all about today. Before we jump into that Grant, tell us a little about yourself, your background. You're quite the entrepreneur. You've been doing a lot in the nonprofit space. So would love if you could share your background with our listeners.

Grant Hensel Absolutely. So everyone makes fun of me for being named Grant and working with the Google grant, which it took me actually a couple of years to realize that was, anyway. So now it's I'm just embracing it. But I want to be an entrepreneur since I was really young. And it is a dream now to be doing entrepreneurial work, growing Nonprofit Megaphone and also working with nonprofits. I've done other stuff as part of launching an app called the Roundup app, which let people round-up and donate their change and some other ventures before that, but thrilled to be now focused on Nonprofit Megaphone for once.

Justin Wheeler So tell us more about Nonprofit Megaphone and the core sort of services you provide to nonprofits.

Grant Hensel Totally. And I'll give you, in case it's helpful, I'll give you some of our quick back story. So we started five years ago and we began by surveying a couple hundred nonprofits and asking them, what is your familiarity with the Google ad grant? Have you heard of it? You know what it is? Are you using it? And seventy-five percent of nonprofits said we've not heard of it or we're not using it. And then our second question and our two-question survey was, if you could reach more people who were Googling what your organization does, would that be impactful? And everyone said, you know, ten out of ten, very impactful. And so we realized that there's a disconnect. The answer to the first, to the second question is the first question. And so we set out to be a marketing agency that just helps people with the Google ad and does nothing else. So I can't even spell Facebook. I'm horrible at everything that you could possibly imagine other than the Google grant. That is the one thing that we're good at and that we help just over four hundred, it's like four hundred and thirty-something nonprofits get the Google grant and then use it to share their messages with the world.

Justin Wheeler So for those who are not familiar with the Google grant program, give us an overview of what Google is offering nonprofits. And then we'll get into a bit more of the how after that.

Grant Hensel The Google is a really cool program. It's been around for over a decade now and it gives nonprofits $10,000 a month to spend on ads in Google search. So if you're a 501c3 and you're not a hospital or a school or a government agency, and it's both in the United States and in dozens of other countries, you apply for this grant, everyone who applies and who meets the criteria gets approved. It's a bit of a process, but you have 100 percent success rate if you're doing it right and you then get $10,000 a month of credit to spend on these ads. So if you're a humane society, you have people Googling, adopt a dog near me. You can have ads that show up in that search results page. So someone Googles that. They'll see a little ad for your website. If they click on it, they get taken to your website and they can learn about what you do. And the grant goes on forever. So as long as you keep following the rules, ten thousand dollars a month over and over again into perpetuity.

Justin Wheeler So we're talking about one hundred and twenty thousand dollars a year in free money, basically to promote an organization. The number one question, as you know, at Funraise, we provide technology to nonprofits. Their number one question after they're fully implemented was how do we get new donors? Google grant one hundred twenty thousand dollars a year in advertisement is obviously a great place to begin. Do you have any, just to understand sort of how big the program is or how many nonprofits are do you have any like any data around sort of the size of this program and how much Google has given out over the last decade or so?

Grant Hensel Yeah, I don't know the totals offhand. I believe, we talk to the Google grants team all the time, and I think the last number I heard from them is roughly 40,000 nonprofits have the grant currently, globally. That is...

Justin Wheeler Which we know there's one point five million nonprofits. For organizations on shoe string budgets who have zero dollars to pay in advertising. I mean, this is just a no brainer. And so, I mean, I would I'm surprised by that. Why is it so, so few organizations? Is it just because it's there's not a lot of awareness around it or are there other challenges or obstacles nonprofits encounter?

Grant Hensel Yeah, I think that awareness is still a huge issue, even ten plus years in. I think the other component is that to be successful, the Google ad grant is a component of digital marketing and to be successful, it does require a decent web presence, like a good website and also something for people to do once they arrive at the website. So people using Funrise have a lot of productive things for people to do. Others maybe not, might not have that. And so it's definitely if I was starting a nonprofit, it would probably be like the eighth thing that I did not the first or the second thing. And so for some people, it might not yet make sense.

Justin Wheeler Got it. OK, that makes sense. So tell us about your approach, and you mentioned 400 plus clients that you're helping and you're highly specialized, you know, you're not like, you know, all the digital things. It's highly focused, which I like that because I think it's important, especially when I mean, ten thousand dollars a month is not a small amount of advertising money. So talk to us about how you work with your clients. One of the things that your team does to provide to really optimize this grant money, which I would imagine the end goal is to acquire more donors, to raise more funds and to generate more attention and awareness around the organization itself. So tell us a little bit about what you guys actually do to help organizations optimize this important grant.
Grant Hensel Absolutely. As you could probably imagine, with the 400 plus, we have it down to a process and the process is as follows. So we have a number of conversations before we even start working with someone to understand what are your goals? What are the current strengths of your website? Do you have content that people would be Googling that you could then use these ads to promote for some organizations? They don't have that yet. So if we go back to our human society example, if you just have like a homepage, an about page and like a contact page or something, you can reach some people, certainly. But it would be great if you had other pages that were answering questions. You know, why is that impactful to adopt rather than buying a pet or other things that people might be searching for. So we help clients think through that. And in some cases, we can even help them write the content. Other people write their own content. We then help people get approved for the grant if they're not already approved. Some people had it in the past and then they sort of didn't keep up with it and it got paused so we can reactivate it, whatever that looks like. And then the third thing is we set up conversion tracking. So it's great to know that when someone comes to your website that they're there. But you really want to know, are they signing up for your newsletter or are they watching videos? Are they filling out forms to volunteer, are they donating, you know, through a platform like Funraise provides? What are they actually, what actions are they taking? And then our team essentially creates dozens and dozens of ads with dozens and dozens of different keywords to try and reach anyone who might be searching for something related to the work that your organization is doing and bring those people to specific pages on your website that makes sense. And trying to bring more of those people in higher quality people so that they do more of the conversion actions is what they're called for, what you ultimately want to drive as an outcome. And that just becomes an iterative process over and over again. More ads, better tracking, more optimization. Our ideal client has a lot of stuff going on and they say the Google ad is a great opportunity. We don't want to be doing it day to day. We want someone else to do it and we'll direct the strategy. So that's where we come in.

Justin Wheeler So what would be like the outcome of spending one hundred and twenty thousand dollars a year on Google grants? Is there like a pure ROI play where just to acquire more donors and more revenue, or are there other sort of use cases and or examples where you've really seen it impact an organization in other ways, any sort of like case studies or use cases that you're really excited about to share? We'd love to love to dig into some of this.

Grant Hensel Absolutely. We're obsessed with case studies. Our website, we have like 50 case studies on there if you're looking for something that like is related to it. We organize them by the type of nonprofit. So if you're like I'm an animal nonprofit or I'm international, you know, whatever. So lots of stuff there. But I'd say that it certainly depends on the type of organization and a comment on the spending of the grant, some organizations, probably many organizations can reach every single person in the geography that they serve that are searching for things that they care about. And it might only cost five thousand dollars. If you're a humane society just in Chicago, you might be able to reach anyone who searches anything animal related for eight thousand dollars a month. And so you'll have two thousand dollars left over, which is fine. And it doesn't matter. It's about the outcome, not the spend. But with that, it depends on what the organization is looking to accomplish. So if I'm a humane society, I'm probably trying to drive adoptions, which is also a revenue driver for me, which is fantastic. And those people will probably become my donors long term. If I am a performing arts organization like I'm a symphony or an orchestra, same thing. I'm trying to sell tickets. Those people will eventually both drive revenue but also become donors for other organizations like Girls Who Code is a client. They have programs that people can participate in which allows them to accomplish their mission. Those people will ultimately probably become volunteers and supporters as they get older and so forth. So that's a good way to think about it. That's not to say that there can't be immediate donation capacity, especially if the work your organization is doing happens to become top of mind in a big way. So last year, 2020, obviously a crazy year, but racial justice became a big topic last year and continues to be, which is as it should be. A lot of people were searching for that. And we have a number of clients that do great work in that area. Who got huge amounts of donations through the Google grant because people were saying, you know, I can't believe these things are happening, I want to be involved and be helpful. And those people were ready to immediately donate. And so that's definitely not a normal course. People sadly, people are not typically Googling, like, I have too much money. Where should I get rid of it? But in some circumstances, it's a great way to reach those people.

Justin Wheeler Are you seeing, it's probably a little early to tell, but we've had obviously previous stimulus rounds, are you seeing any sort of like more demand in search of when, like, stimulus money is being sent out to individuals? Does that, like, spark any sort of opportunities for organizations or is that a little bit harder to uncover?

Grant Hensel It certainly any type of legislation certainly drives a heck of a lot of search volume. We have some organizations that are helping empower small businesses. And so whenn the paycheck protection program comes out, lots of people searching for things like that, lots of people searching for information. We have organizations that help folks in disadvantaged communities with tax preparation or services like that. So those organizations have certainly seen big increases in search volume. But I'd say it's probably been more targeted from what I've been seeing.

Justin Wheeler OK, and we go back to something you said here in the beginning. You said you were starting a nonprofit, it wouldn't be the first or second, but probably the eighth thing that you would do. So help me understand, what are the things that you need to be done before launching with Google grants?

Grant Hensel Yeah, I think the big picture is I would want to make sure that one, my mission and message was clear and that that was clearly expressed on my website. So if someone came to my website, they would understand immediately what I'm all about and how that they can help, you know, come alongside the mission and then two, so maybe it's the third thing, two I would make sure that website content exists that relates to things that people might be searching for. And there are lots of free tools. is a great free tool that you can put in, you know, adopt a dog and it'll give you 20, 30 questions that people are asking around that. And so in a perfect world, you would have pages on your website that answer those questions because that is perfect content to then advertise using the Google grant. You're reaching your audience. This is what they're searching. You're giving them what they want in the form of an answer and then you're giving them a next step. And once you have those components, then the Google grant becomes hugely impactful. But before that, it's a bit of an uphill battle.

Justin Wheeler Right. And so it sounds like too the sort of best sort of way to optimize Google grants is to match obviously the intent. Right. When someone is searching for something, asking a question, wherever it might be, ad comes up like adoption, pet adoption, as you've used as an example before, sending someone directly to a donation page is going to see very little conversion. Sending someone to a page where it talks about the adoptions gives you an opportunity to adopt. Obviously, that's what you want to do. You want to align sort of where the user is going once they click the add to that content on your website, which is great because I mean, outside of Google grants, I just having good SEO strong keywords for what people are searching for is going to be a benefit. So do you guys do anything on keyword optimization within the content? I know you mentioned you write content. How do you see sort of SEO, keyword and Google grants working together in harmony, if you will?

Grant Hensel It's yeah, it's such a good question because lots of nonprofits ask us about, you know, should we be caring about SEO and how does that relate to this world? The interesting thing about the Google grant is in some ways like a perfect middle ground between paid advertising and organic search engine optimization. If you're a for-profit, you have to choose between. I'm going to give Google a lot of real dollars to get right to the top of the search results page, or I'm going to give someone else a lot of real dollars to try and optimize my website and have the pages show up organically and naturally. And the cool thing about the Google grant is that it gives you the best of both worlds. It's very cost-effective, but it also quickly gets you to the top of the search results page. And so to answer your question, yes, we chat with each of our clients and we say depending on how much content you have, some organizations have so much content that it's not a problem at all. Most organizations, though, there's room for more content. And we'll say, do you have a team internally that can help with that? Do you have a current process or do you need external help? In either component, in either situation, we're happy to do some keyword research and provide topics of articles that we know will basically be a slam dunk and that instead of in a normal world, if you're a for-profit, you'd have to write the article, build links to it, it'll take like six months and then maybe someone will see it on Google. If you're a nonprofit, you write the article. We send a bunch of Google ad ads to it and you immediately are getting benefit from that new piece of content, which is very cool. And it's like an advantage that nonprofits have that I don't know if they always fully appreciate because it's extremely powerful.

Justin Wheeler Yeah, I mean, it's free advertisement and so the skepticism that many people might have is, well, how long is this like a, you know, sort of like a way to get us our foot in the door to see some good IOI and then all of a sudden it starts costing us. But it sounds like that's not the intent. I mean, Google's been doing this for over a decade. So you have any thoughts on individuals out there that are skeptical about is this is too good to be true? Am I really getting ten thousand dollars a month in free ads with sort of your thoughts around that, the skeptical individual?

Grant Hensel Yeah, it's the too good to be true is both true and not true. It's not that it's an instant push-button receive millions of dollars in donations. It's absolutely not that there's a lot of work that goes, A getting people to your website requires content as we as we've discussed, and then, B taking those people and converting them ultimately to donors takes a lot of intermediate steps. Most people do not donate the first time they arrive on a website, they probably sign up for a newsletter. They, you know, they do something there. There's intermediate stages. It's not like proposing marriage on the first date. So there's certainly that component. On the other hand, Google is definitely not. We've chatted a lot with the Google Ad Grants team. We know them very well. I've been out to California to meet them. They're all actually working remotely now as as are we all, but we've had lots of calls with them. Their goal is truly like social impact. With the ad grant, you never put in any billing information. So your credit card, Google doesn't have it. They couldn't charge you if they if they wanted to. If you get up to the ten thousand dollars in a month, it just stops. There's no capacity for overages or anything like that. And I'll say that our experience we have, you know, a handful of clients that have chosen to also run paid ads in addition to the Google grant. But it's not the majority, 90 percent plus are just using the Google grant, and that gives them everything they need in terms of reaching that audience, which is fantastic.

Justin Wheeler Do you see any, so correlation to, like, usage of the ten thousand dollars within an organization's budget? Right. So, like, I know you work with enterprise nonprofits that have much larger budgets, more content, much more donors and so forth. And then you work with some small nonprofits who are maybe just getting started, who've got good content and are growing their content. Is there any like I mean, can the small nonprofit spend enough of it or can the large nonprofit does it need more? Does that make sense? 

Grant Hensel Absolutely. We have done a ton of analysis on this question and trying to figure out how we can predict it. And it is much more correlated to content than to budget. So we have organizations that are enormous in terms of revenue, but that have not yet made the investment in website content and they are not able to spend as much of the grant as very small organizations. We have one organization, all volunteer-run it's called Kennel to Couch. It's fantastic. It's about pit bulls and helping them get adopted and you know, small, all-volunteer team shoestring budget like they're making every dollar go incredibly far. They are spending the full amount, ten thousand dollars each month because they made such an investment in content from day one. And so they are the spend is really not the yardstick that you should use. But in that metric, they're outperforming organizations that are probably ten thousand times their size truly. And it's just because they're smart about it and they're using the content to their advantage. 

Justin Wheeler Yeah, that's great. And then a couple more questions here. Is there a baseline if an organization is looking at this and they're looking to increase revenue, is there sort of like a baseline goal where you'd like to see an organization get to after they've dialed this in, after they've optimized content? Do you have any sort of baseline metric around? Like for every dollar we spend in Google ads, you should be able to get to a two or three or four X sort of return. Do you have any sort of data around that or is that the wrong way to think about

Grant Hensel It is for some organization? So we have an example of a client we work with called the Little Market, which is a fair trade, handmade goods from artisans and a variety of countries. They're essentially a nonprofit e-commerce website. And so they're trying to sell these actually, really. impressive, like people should check it out. It's very cool. They're trying to sell these items because that directly furthers their mission. They absolutely think about what is the dollars of revenue that we are bringing in. For other organizations, it's much more it's a little more big picture. So environmental advocacy organizations, they're trying to get a message out and change hearts and minds about certain topics and, you know, create a movement in that way. And so their view of success is much more about, you know, how many people are we reaching? Are we getting them to sign up for our communications? Are we getting them to watch videos and so forth? So certainly depends. And plenty of people are hybrid's. You know, if you're Symphony, you're probably in the middle. You want to drive ticket sales, but you also want to promote the love of music in general. And so you have to balance those two things.

Justin Wheeler Do you see the grants being used for things like driving traffic to career pages or volunteer opportunities? Maybe not not directly related to dollars raised, but to other sort of opportunities, an organization is looking, whether it's staffing and so forth, you see it as an effective spend for for that type of category?

Grant Hensel Absolutely. Staffing is a big one. If any nonprofit that has a lot of job openings that you're trying to fill, that Google Ad grant is fantastic because there's so many people searching for that type of thing, especially now. So that is enormous. Volunteer opportunities certainly. Events do very well as as well, and especially if the event is something that someone could conceivably want to be doing as a concept. So if you have like a 5K, a lot of people are searching for 5Ks and so this weekend. And so this is a great way to reach them. They're also our team has been really creative in terms of the ways that they'll advertise these things. Some nonprofit events would be appropriate to attend as like a date night and so will run ads that say people searching date night opportunities. And this will be an opportunity. So you can go to this event and see the great work that a nonprofit is doing. So there are a lot of creative ways to do it.

Justin Wheeler Very cool. So it sounds like this is, aside from driving more donations, right, which is important. There's lots of other opportunities for organizations to really optimize what Google is offering. And so if you're listening today and you're not currently spending free money on Google for AdWords, Grant and his team are the people to talk to. We're going to put their information in the podcast summary here. Make sure you can find and get ahold of Grant, as they have worked with many of our mutual clients and have heard nothing but good things to say. grant, how else can people find and follow along the work that you're doing?

Grant Hensel Best place is probably Nonprofit Megaphone. It's just We have all the normal social channels as well. People who have questions for me, my email is just And if you have like a weird Google grant issue or question that you're running into, shoot me an email. I'm happy to be helpful however I can.

Justin Wheeler That's awesome. Well, Grant, thank you so much for your time. Thanks for sharing your expertize with our community. We really appreciate it. And we're looking forward to continuing partnering with you and your team at Nonprofit Megaphone.

Grant Hensel Absolutely. Yeah. Thanks, Justin. Thanks for the great work you guys are doing as well. Super cool to see the success that many of our mutual clients have had with your guys' platform. So thanks for the great work.

Justin Wheeler Absolutely. Thanks, man. Have a go one!

Grant Hensel You too!i


Thanks for listening to this episode of Nonstop Nonprofit! 

This podcast is brought to you by your friends at Funraise. Nonprofit fundraising software, built by nonprofit people. Don't forget to get your next episode the second it hits the internets. Go to and sign up for email notifications today. 

See you next time!