Help I Just lost my Google Ad Grant

George Weiner
May 2, 2018 · 8 min read

The title of this article is becoming more frequently used by the roughly 35,000 nonprofit recipients of the popular Google Ad Grant. The Google Ad Grant program gives nonprofits up to $10,000 per month in free in-kind Google Ads across the search network through the Google for Nonprofits platform.

Photo by Arthur Osipyan on Unsplash

On December 13, 2017, the Ad Grants team announced significant changes to the program that went into effect on January 1, 2018. A statement to the international news agency Reuters read:

“We revised our Ad Grants policies to help nonprofits be more effective with Google Ads and improve the quality of their ads, which will lead to targeted awareness of their projects and mission.” We’ve posted the exact email at the bottom of this post.

What actually changed

The upbeat tone of the Google Ad Grant email, that highlighted the lifting of the $2 bid max for maximize conversions buried the real lead. The email was in fact a huge alert that many accounts needed to make serious adjustments on the quality of their ads to remain eligible.

The big 5 changes that call for a restructuring of most accounts:

The timing of the mid-December notice, when many nonprofits are knee-deep in end-of-year giving campaigns and then holiday breaks, made it especially easy to overlook the changes required.

Whole Whale has managed tens of millions of dollars in Google’s amazing grant. As of this writing, we also have the only online course through Udemy that trains nonprofits in managing this grant.

Our team of account strategists, who know this stuff cold, had to spend around 11 focused hours on each of our accounts across 4 weeks. For each account, this process involved cleaned up (~2hrs) and then optimizing for spend and CTR including re-writing ads, restructuring campaigns, and creating new maximize conversion campaigns/ad groups. We were able to save 95% of our accounts managed, losing one due to English ads in non-native English geographies (since regained). Even as an agency specializing in managing the Google Ad Grant, we found the shift in strategy required for this policy update to be far from a few tweaks in order to be more effective.

Why did you do this, Google Ad Grant team?!

Whole Whale believes that the Google Ad Grant is an unbelievably generous in-kind gift to nonprofits in both dollars and the impact it has. We love this grant so we contacted the Ad Grants Team for comment and they were nice enough to explain what is going on.

Michelle Hurtado, Head of Google Ad Grants, explained that the program is focusing on quality and performance to make the offer more valuable to both nonprofits and people searching for nonprofit causes.

As explained in Google Executive Chairman and ex-CEO Eric Schmidt and former SVP of Products Jonathan Rosenberg’s How Google Works, all Google employees are held to Objectives and Key results (OKRs), a goal system that aligns ambition with measurable performance indicators. For 2018, Michelle’s team is driving toward higher CTR and conversion rate in order to connect more people with social causes..

One of the big problems that has arisen with the grant is that, in order to use the full amount, many spend excess money on broader terms that may not apply to the organization rather than losing the chance to spend the money. “Ads for terms like ‘movies’ or ‘children’ are common in accounts looking for broad awareness,” Michelle pointed out. “But these rarely result in good connections made between people and nonprofits.” Google wants us to also see the big picture: “The Ad Grants program is here to stay, and we hope that our policies serve as a guide on how to use Ad Grants better.

This will hopefully lead to more intelligent uses of the Grant across all grantees though it is clear that there are going to be a number of growing pains in the coming months. Michelle was careful to add the word ‘temporary’ to the suspensions that have impacted a small proportion of Ad Grantees as of this writing. “It is our goal to get these accounts back in action once the necessary changes are made to increase the quality and relevance of ads.”

This is still an awesome grant

In dollars, let’s do the math: Based on Google’s data, 35,000 nonprofits spent at least $10,000 per month in 2017 (not accounting for those who were receiving the now-discontinued GrantsPro, which gave $40,000 a month in ads) equals $4.2 billion in potential ad spend.

That’s for one year, and this thing has been around for 15!

Now, compare that with Google’s competitors and you’ll be hard-pressed to find something that stands out as analogous. Facebook, for example, has never had a formal ad grant system for nonprofits — though they did have a one-time nonprofit ad credit program that discontinued in 2016.

Turning to impact, Google cares about using its platform to make a difference. Awesome organizations use these ads to drive more people to their websites and engage them in their causes. At Whole Whale, we’ve driven over 6 million site visits to our nonprofit clients’ websites this way. And believe me, those nonprofits feel that impact in the form of more people learning about, engaging with, and becoming committed to their cause.

Most nonprofits simply can’t compete in the crowded marketplaces of social media and digital advertising. AFS-USA Intercultural Programs, which has been the leading study-abroad organization for high schoolers for over a century, is now facing greater competition with for-profit companies that run similar, but far more expensive, programs. In order to regain exposure in the crowded study abroad marketplace, AFS and organizations in a similar position will increasingly rely on the support of platforms that believe in a greater mission and not just a one-size-fits-all pricing model for advertising. Google Grants are helping AFS — and thousands of organizations like it — reclaim their spot in the front of users’ minds.

Google Ad Grants as an Answer to #FakeNews…

The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer data are in, and while we are living through a multi-year decline in public trust, the NGO sector remains the leader in what trust we have left in four major sectors.

This erosion is a symptom of globalization, polarization, attacks on the media, and a general lack on consensus on facts. The net effects of the current U.S. leadership pushing out terms like “alternative facts” and trumpeting #FakeNews haven also accelerated distrust in the Government and Media sectors.

Image Source: Edelman

If NGOs are the kings and queens of trust, it’s time to double-down on the investment in content. The idea of #FakeNews and overall public distrust means that important information around health, education, unemployment, and the environment are being lost in a sea of finger-pointing and gerrymandering. There is an incredible opportunity for NGOs to fill this gap through reporting on and disseminating trusted information around the issues they cover.

To make this point a bit more tangible, consider some of the following Google autocomplete searches. Autocomplete shows the collective result of trillions of searches that are done on the search engine, narrowed down by searches across the world. When people want to learn something, they Google it and then let the algorithm sort out what they should see based on myriad factors.

The question is, who is fighting to answer these questions and win the battle on consensus? Take a minute and explore how people are searching for terms around your cause with this simple and powerful tool:

For 15 years the Google Ad Grant has helped nonprofits get an equal playing field in the online dialogue and discovery around key issues. Issues that companies and special interests spend billions to manipulate. The value of allowing small nonprofit players to show up when it matters most cannot be underestimated, especially in our current media and political climate.

How do I get my Google Ad Grant back?!

If you haven’t already, make sure that your CTR for active keywords is above 5% and keywords are all relevant. The Google Ads customer service team is awesome and has been fielding our calls and emails regularly. In order to regain your Ad Grants, you need to follow the details of their notice, completely removing irrelevant keywords/ads. Then consider contacting the Google Ad Grant support line and explain that your grant was “temporarily suspended” due to Ad Grants’ policies. They should be able to help you understand exactly which ads, groups, or keywords caused the issue.

Beyond this, Whole Whale will continue to create Google Ad Grant trainings, webinars and courses.


The actual email received by 35,000 nonprofits read as follows:

From: Google Ad Grants <>
Date: Wed, Dec 13, 2017 at 8:19 PM
Subject: Important updates from Google Ad Grants

Dear Ad Grants grantee,

We’re writing to inform you of updated Ad Grants’ program policies. We’ve grown to proudly serve over 35,000 nonprofits and recently reviewed our policies to add clarity and raise standards of quality for our free advertising grants.

We are excited to share that effective immediately, we are lifting the program’s $2.00 USD bid cap when using Maximize conversions bidding as it automatically sets bids based on performance.

Next, we’ve updated our policies:

Terms and conditions

Mission-based campaigns policy

Website policy

Account management policy

Legacy GrantsPro policies are retired

These policy updates are effective January 1 for all Ad Grantees. Please note that we primarily use in-product notifications to communicate personalized suggestions as well as warnings about non-compliance. We’re also committed to helping you use your ad grant successfully. Look out for upcoming webinars, local events, outreach via online community forums, and tailored help content to support you more.


The Google Ad Grants team

Whole Whale

Whole Whale is a digital agency that leverages data and…

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