4 things I wish I’d known about Google AdGrants

Google Ad Grants pin.png

One late fall day (a busy time of year at any nonprofit), when I was trying to prepare communications for our #GivingTuesday campaign, our grants manager emailed me instructions for getting my Gmail authorized on our new Google AdGrants account. She had submitted the application and was awarded they money… and now I would be responsible for creating the ads so they would actually be effective and track of all of the new Google Ads’ special terms for nonprofits.

But $10,000. $10K in in-kind advertising dollars! That big boost looked great on our grants budget line. But I was instantly confused and overwhelmed. How would I manage a $10,000 grant when I was already completely inundated with all the one-person communications department responsibilities I already had?

Below is a list of lessons I learned along the way, mostly consisting of stuff I wish I’d known before I began! Getting a Google AdGrant is the easy part. Managing it is a lot trickier.

  1. You probably won’t be able to use the full $10,000 every month. 
    Unless you’re a big national nonprofit, or maybe if you have a lot of staff time dedicated to managing your Google AdWords, then you won’t even get close to using your full $10,000 allocation in a month. For a short time, when I had our ads geotargeted at the whole United States, we used about $2,000 per month. Since my director decided that we should only advertise in our state, we are using only about $200 per month (and only because I’ve learned many techniques to better optimize our ads since then!)
  2. You can’t just hand the account over to the youngest, most tech-savvy person on staff and expect them to be successful.
    I’m used to managing email, social media, the website, etc. but this was not a platform where I could just log on and figure it out along the way. Online resources have been easier to find as time goes on, but the person in charge of managing the ads will need to actively seek those out in order to start spending a meaningful portion of the grant. I was embarrassed when, in order to avoid losing the grant, we hired a consultant to work with me every month to give me suggestions and teaching resources. Looking back, I might not have needed paid help if I had known where to find the free training and some good ebooks just for nonprofits, which brings me to number 3…
  3. You should start Google’s Academy for Ads training before you even apply.
    And you should probably start this training before you apply for the grant (and lose it) so you understand what you’re getting into. If I had known about this when I started, I would have had everything I needed to prepare myself instead of avoiding digging into the daunting task of learning Google AdWords on my own for a month until I received a warning we would lose our grant if I didn’t increase our click-through rate.
  4. All of your nonprofit’s the Google Ads campaigns you create have to fit specific requirements.
    And you can get the grant taken away if you don’t comply. The requirements change over time, so you’ll need to pay attention to any important email updates from Google and news surrounding the subject. You can find the exact requirements in Google’s policies, but I’m going to break them down:
  • Your overall account must have an average click-through rate of at least 5% every month.
  • You must use geotargetting (and of course you should!) for your service area.
  • Each campaign must have two ad groups and each ad group must have two ads.
  • Keywords must have a quality score of two or higher.
  • Ads should have at least two sitelink extensions.
  • One-word keywords are a no-go.

Downloadable communications tracking spreadsheet

Are your communications reaching people? And if they are, can you prove it?

During my orientation on the first day of my nonprofit communications job, I was shown a version of this communications tracking spreadsheet. Already I could tell there were a lot of aspects of the job that I wanted to change up, but I knew I wanted to continue tracking media interactions and email analytics this way.

Since then, I’ve changed this spreadsheet a lot, mostly adding and deleting tabs, developing the document along with our needs.

Through those changes, I’ve also made an effort to keep things simple. I’ve introduced some color coding (green for click-through rates over 6%, red for solicitations, special colors for campaigns that mention a major sponsor) but that’s really it! Change this spreadsheet to match your organization’s needs.

The amount of data this spreadsheet requires you to collect is also very limited, saving you time.

But raw data isn’t the point. If you want a quick overview of how your communications efforts are performing over time at your nonprofit, small business, or your own personal blog, you need a document that you can read and interpret quickly.

This free, downloadable spreadsheet will help you collect just enough information to give your boss an update, report to your board, get new interns up to speed—or even just see for yourself that your communications are working!

Download the Simple Communications Tracking Excel sheet

Checklist: Digital marketing fundamentals

If you’re responsible for communications at a nonprofit or small business, you know there will never be enough time to do everything. Maybe your organization has already gotten its feet wet in digital marketing. Maybe you’re the first person to make a digital marketing effort and you’re just wondering where to start.

No matter where you are, there are a million tools and only so many hours in a healthy workday. I created this list so you can start by checking off the essentials and create a solid foundation no matter how your communications grow next.

[ ] You have an email subscriber list that you send messages on a monthly basis, at a minimum.

[ ] When someone subscribes to your email list, they receive an automated welcome email.

[ ] You utilize free communications tools that will help you get your message across more efficiently.

[ ] You are on the social media platform that is most relevant to your audiences.
*The platform that works best for one of your audiences may not be the best platform for another. Consider tailoring your strategies for various groups, testing, then re-evaluating later.

[ ] You utilize free and low-cost webinars and local workshops to stay up-to-date on the newest communications practices.
(The communications webinars by Bloomerang and Firespring are my favorites. Kivi Leroux Miller’s are great though often cost money.)

[ ] You have a website that actually works (even if it isn’t beautiful yet).

[ ] Everyone at your workplace, even those in different departments (and especially your board) knows that they are an integral part of your social media strategy and therefore consistently engage with your content.

[ ] You have a social media/content guide.

[ ] You have an editorial calendar (even if only you and the interns are using it right now).

[ ] You make real, fresh, original content to share across all your communications platforms and you know how to repurpose it to get as much mileage as you can.

Top free web-based tools for communications professionals

Top free web-based tools for communications professionals

As someone who works at a nonprofit, I know what it’s like to not have the budget to buy all the “pay to play” communications tool that bigger businesses might have.

This list is for nonprofits, small businesses, student organizations, and any other group that needs to improve their communications without increasing their budgets.

**I am an affiliate for a small number of the platforms listed below and may earn a small commission for your signup—at no cost to you. I believe in all of these platforms and use all of them during my daily work as a communications professional.**

WordPress Plugins

Social Warfare

You can download, install, and activate this plugin then have sharing buttons on all the blog posts on your website in literally 3 minutes.

Broken Link Checker

This plugin constantly checks your site for broken links and missing images for website management peace of mind.

Graphic Design


The free version works great, but if you apply, your nonprofit might be able to get the business version for free, which opens up all kinds of possibilities.


Infogram is a good option for quick graphs. The site even generates the code you need to embed an interactive graph on your site. (You’ll need to pay if you’d like to remove their branding.)


If you don’t have pictures to go along with your social media post, Legend (a mobile app) is perfect for creating quick, beautiful GIFs/videos that increase engagement.

Social media

Facebook Pages Manager

This mobile app has its flaws, but Facebook Pages Manager has just about everything you could ask for in a free app including scheduling, the ability to broadcast a live video, and the capability to post to any of your pages in one place.


Tweetdeck, a web app, allows you to schedule Twitter posts to go live while you’re away from the computer, including posts with images. It’s reliable and straightforward.


If you don’t like the Twitter and Facebook scheduling tools listed above, then you might like Hootsuite. The paid option allows you to manage more accounts, but the free version will get you by, especially if your goal is cross-posting the same content across multiple accounts (not ideal, but often the reality in small nonprofits).



It’s free and Grammarly’s amazing Chrome plugin has prevented 1,131 grammar errors for me since I signed up in 2017.

Files & analytics

Google Drive

If your organization already uses Gmail, then the rest of Google’s tools integrate almost flawlessly.

Google Alerts

Set up Google Alerts not only for the name of your nonprofit but also terms surrounding your mission. This way, you’ll get an email notification every time something newsworthy happens in your field, AKA a constant stream of social media content ideas.


Yes, Bit.ly shortens links, making them prettier. But it also adds tracking. Generate a shortened link with Bit.ly to track who is navigating to your site through a particular social media post, newsletter ask, etc.

Free team collaboration tools


Small trelloSome people love it, some people hate it. It’s on this list, so of course, I love it. I used to Trello to assign projects to my interns… until we switched to Asana.


Asana is a lot like Trello but with a lot more features. If you’re focused on one project at a time, Trello is great. But we all know that the communications field is so rarely, if ever, like that. Asana gives you so much more flexibility. Just be sure you don’t create so many projects you’re completely overwhelmed!


Slack is a system designed to streamline your team’s internal communications. It’s a definite upgrade to your typical office G-Chat. If you have remote workers who aren’t often in the office, moving your team to Slack for group communication is definitely worth a try.

**Note: These are all amazing tools and very comparable. It’s easy to argue about which one is better, but the system that will best serve your team is the project management system you can get your whole team on board with. Stick with just one at a time and make sure everyone is using it on a daily basis.

Email & signups

Signup Genius

Signup Genius has a bit of an outdated look, but the free version is pretty solid. It also sends automated email reminders to participants. In my opinion, it doesn’t feel nearly as spammy as some other free signup tools.


Mailchimp’s Forever Free plan is probably the best and most popular email tool out there for nonprofits that don’t have room for a paid bulk email service in their budgets. But once you have over 2,000 email subscribers, you’ll have to move to their paid service. Plus, their “Knowledge Base” guides are awesome no matter what email platform you use.


MotionMail’s free account will allow you to create a countdown timer that you can both use on your emails and on your webpage. These are so easy to create—no coding knowledge required!

Comment with any free communications tools that you think should be added to this list. 

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