Causes Getting Attention | Online Fundraising | Episode 2: Grant Hensel
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Jason: Grant, thanks for taking the time to join us today. We’re really excited to do a deep dive into how nonprofits can get the most out of Adword grants to bring awareness to their cause and of course, revenue.
Grant: Glad to be here.
Jason: So Grant, tell our listeners a little bit about your background and how you ended up working with nonprofits.
Grant: Absolutely, so people make fun of me because our work is with the Google Ad Grant, and my name of course is also Grant. Some would say it was destined since my very birth, but no in actuality, I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I also knew that I wanted to, in some way, make the world a better place through my work.
I was exposed to the nonprofit world in college. I was a contractor for a marketing company that did work with nonprofit organizations and other businesses. We did a lot of different things while I was there, the whole gambit of services. But, it struck me that the Google Adwords Grant was the most impactful service of the things we did.
We would always start with Google Grants first and it was interesting. Understanding what the levers were in an industry and that seemed like a leaver.
Then I forgot about it and we to work for a large consulting company doing data analytics consulting, which was a great experience building dashboards and reporting for very large organization. I was also the director of marketing for an IT company in Connecticut, but there was always that itch to be doing something for nonprofits in the nonprofit world.
I actually started Nonprofit Megaphone at night very part time and slowly started to grow our team. Eventually, it was at a point where it was big enough where it could become my full time occupation. That’s the quick story. Some would say it began at birth, but the answer is that it began 5 or 6 years ago.
Jason: Your career and your background prepared you for this. It’s interesting how that just happens overnight. I experienced that in this website and this podcast. One day you have an idea and you go just go for it and it evolves into something you could never have imaged it evolving into.
Grant: I remember in the early days we thought: Wouldn’t it be incredible if we could work with 10 nonprofit organizations. It seemed like the biggest dream and then two weeks ago I think we actually reached 100 clients, which is exciting. We’re at 109 right now, I want to say. It’s just wild to believe and I’m sure you’ve had these experiences already, you start to see the tiny idea you had begin to grow and put down roots.
It’s a cool feeling.
Jason: Yeah, I think a lot of people don’t understand how long that process can take. For you, how long did it take to go from 10 to 109?
Grant: A LONG time. If you looked at the timeline and plotted them on a graph it took us 6 months to go from zero to 1 client. Then it took us another 6 months to get to 5 clients. In our first year, we went from 0 clients and it was just a really long and painful process of trying everything and learning the hard way that the ideas we had were not that good.
There’s a click that happens and by the time we got to 10 we had started to build a process and started to understand what it was. For us, it was the free trial was a significant change. When we take the risk, nonprofits are much more willing to experiment with the Google Ad Grant. Before, we were asking them to take the risk by starting to pay us at the beginning.
But, it was a really long process in the beginning. There were times when we thought we should quit, that it was a dumb idea and that no one wants this.
Jason: Self-doubt can really eat at you.
Jason: So, tell me a little bit about what the Google Ad Grant is. I am a complete novice when it comes to any type of PPC or pay per click ads I’ve dabbled a little in Facebook and Twitter ads, and I think I’ve run one or two Google Adwords campaigns that failed miserably.
But, it was a fun learning experience.
Grant: Great question. The Google Ad Grant has been around for about 10 years. Have you ever heard of Sheryl Sandberg by chance?
Jason: Yeah, she’s the COO of Facebook, right?
Grant: Yes, she also wrote the book Lean In She actually use to work at Google and she started the Ad Grants program during her time there. Which was cool, and I didn’t realize this until we met with the current Google Ad Grants team. The woman who runs it, Michelle, had mentioned it in passing and I thought it was so cool.
It was designed in a way for nonprofits to also benefit from the powerful force that is Google Adwords without being able to afford it.
A quick synopsis of it is:
Nonprofits get $10,000.00 per month to spend on Google Ads as long as they maintain compliance with the Google policies that have been set up for the program. Any organization that is 501c3, that is not a hospital, school, or government entity is eligible for the Google Ad Grant, which is incredible.
This significant and impactful resource that a vast majority of nonprofits can use and in many cases don’t know exist.
Jason: $10,000.00 may seem like a lot of money to send out as a grant, but I know Google is pretty expensive when it comes to any type of paid advertising. Do you see any issues with that, or limitations with that figure?
Grant: Typically ends up being more than enough for most organizations. A lot of it depends on a the geographic scope. If you’re a national organization that serves a lot of people with a set of offerings that appeal to a lot of people, you’ll probably be able to spend the whole $10,000.00. If you’re a smaller organization you won’t even need that much. It will pay for you to run ads to people who are searching for things you’re related to. It may only be $4,000.00 a month to reach people.
Jason: Going back to the requirements, is there a performance requirement that you need to maintain, and if so how difficult is it to retain that requirement.
Grant: These rules are new as of January 2018. There’s a whole new set of leadership who are running the Ad Grants program at Google. Their goal is to increase the quality of ads that people are seeing when ads are being shown. Yes, they’ve put in some requirements/compliance that you have to maintain to keep your grant.
They’re not impossible to maintain by any means, they just require that you know what you’re doing and you do a good job. The main requirement is that you have to hit at least a 5% click through rate, the number of people who click on your ads divided by the people who saw those adds. If 100 people saw an ad for something you were doing Jason and 5 people clicked on it that would be a click through rate of 5%.
Google will give you a grace period if you miss it for one month so you don’t need to worry about losing the grant immediately. Ultimately, it means that you have to create ads that are relevant and make sense and send people to a good landing or donation page.
There are also rules for how your campaigns are set up. So you have to have two ad groups in each campaign and two ads within each ad group. You have to be using site links and tracking conversions through Google Analytics.
Jason: Right, something you would already be doing if you were involved in that process. I’ve heard, or at least I’ve read about having that click through rate as a requirement and I wasn’t sure how difficult it was to retain that.
Jason: Walk me through the application process in as much detail as you can. What does it actually take to get approved for the Ad Grant?
Grant: I’ll give you the detailed version and if folks listening to this isn’t relevant to them then feel free to fast forward.
I’ll give you the detailed version in the hopes that someone else out there is in the process themselves. There are a couple steps in the process.
Grant: To set up your Google for Nonprofits account you have to validate your 501c3 status. It asks you to do this through a third party organization called Techsoup. Techsoup does this validation for a number of programs and Google’s Adwords Grant is one of them.
If you already have a Techsoup account you can log in and get a validation token and put it into your Google for Nonprofits application and you’ll be instantly approved.
If you do not have a Techsoup account you’ll have to go through the process. There’s a link to setting up the account, which takes a few days or weeks as their staff is near capacity. Their phone support team is great, but their email support we’ve had less luck with.
In our organization, we have a full time person whose only job is to get nonprofits approved for the ad grant. There’s so many little things that can happen to prevent or deter the process.
Once you have the token you put it into Google for Nonprofits and you’ll hit apply. If it’s set up correctly you’ll be instantly approved.
One thing that can happen is that in some cases someone else has created a Google for Nonprofits account in the past. Maybe it was a staff member or intern who was a little overzealous and now the login information is lost in the sands of time.
In this case, another form is filled out to request access from the previous admin. The previous admin will get emails from Google for the next 14 days saying that they have a past due account, do you approve this or deny it?
If they do nothing, which typically will happen, then you will be given access to the Google for Nonprofits Account.
Step 1 is oftentimes one of the harder steps. If you’ve gotten that far then you’re doing a great job.
Then from within Google for Nonprofits, you apply for the Google Ad Grant. If you click that button it will give you instructions on what to do. What you do is you create a new Adwords account and follow their instructions. You’ll create a campaign, two ad groups, which is a collection of ads with keywords for targeting, and then for each ad group you’ll create two ads. Next, you’ll create site links that appear under the ads to let people go to different pages on your site, as opposed to the main page that it’s linked too.
Then you set up Google Analytics tracking and conversion. Make sure you have Google Analytics installed on your website. Next, create at least one goal and assign a conversion value to the goal. Finally, link your Adwords account to Google Analytics and then import your goal(s).
There will be a red bar at the top of the screen the whole time telling you to enter your billing information and that your account isn’t active. It’s very important that you don’t enter your billing information. If you do, you will have to start the process all over.
Once you’ve finished these steps, you take your Google Adwords customer ID and the Google Adwords application and submit it to Google For Nonprofits. The approval process takes a couple of days. Sometimes it will be within 24 hours or within a week or 2.
You’ll receive an email confirming your approval and you’ll be set.
There are things that can go wrong in this process. We’ve had rare cases where organizations had an Adwords account and they don’t have access to it, which requires them to regain access.
There are other problems that can go wrong, but in my experience, 80% of organizations won’t have any issues getting approved.
Jason: There’s a lot just to setting up the Google Ad Grants and I don’t think we’ve even got started talking about the Ads themselves.
What in your opinion are some of the pros and cons of bringing this initiative in house vs outsourcing it to a consultant or an agency?
Grant: I mean, take everything I say with a grain of salt, because we are an agency. I would say the organizations that we typically work with are organizations where there’s a lot going on in the marketing department and there are resources that have comfort and familiarity with PPC marketing and Adwords in general. In these cases they just need to be done and not worry about it, but they don’t have the time and money to train someone to do it.
If you have, I think, larger organizations it’s interesting. Our thesis when we started Nonprofit Megaphone was that it would be smaller and mid-sized organizations that don’t have as large of a marketing team, that they would want to outsource it to us. And if you did have a big enough marketing team you would just do it in house.
Interestingly, though, very large organizations use us as well. So, Rotary International, which has a million members worldwide. They’re a client, wonderful people, and they do have a much more robust marketing team. However, they’ve decided that they want to buy into the expertise.
That’s probably the biggest single driver. Do you have a person who knows how to tackle Google Adwords? That’s awesome, I’d run with it. Otherwise, it’s a fairly straightforward thing to outsource.
Jason: I think it also comes down to a capacity thing too. You may have someone who understands that aspect of Google Adwords, but doesn’t have the time to really invest in the way in the way it needs to be. PPC is a nurturing process. It’s not something that you show up to and start reigning into the ROI. You have to methodically optimize your campaigns to ensure everything is running smoothly. LIke you were mentioning before, making sure your offer or wherever that landing page is sent to is relevant and specific to the ad you’re crafting.
Grant: Absolutely, and it does take a lot of effort. Ads are an interesting thing because there’s so much data. You know, time of day, day of the week. We check in a lot on our clients on the weekend because people who are searching for you on the weekend are going to have slightly different goals and slightly different things in mind vs people searching during the week. That’s just part of the game.
It’s an interesting beast because it’s constantly changing. There’s always new features that come out, the environment becomes more competitive. It’s very fun in a way, but the frequency of change can be difficult to deal with.
Jason: Speaking of change, I think it’s now called Google Ads, recently.
Grant: It is!
Jason: It’s not Google Adwords anymore.
Grant: We were just talking about that today. I like it personally, I think it’s easier to understand and I don’t think the word words added that much personally. And everyone calls it Google Ads anyways.
Jason: Are they doing interface changes as well? Is that being rolled out or are they still developing that?
Grant: It has. It’s called the new Adwords experience, or the Adwords beta, which has been out for a number of months and the design is suppose to be faster and easier to use. Our team is personally split on that. Half of the people love the new interface and half love the old interface. Starting in the beginning of July 2018, the new interface is all there will be.
Jason: I know how it is when you’re very comfortable, especially with a program or platform that’s very customized. You have everything and you’ve spent all the time investing in learning it and like on dime everything’s changed.
Grant: Yeah, it’s funny. It’s definitely faster for certain things and slower for other things. Overall, we’re optimistic of the new platform.
Jason: I want to shift the conversation a little bit and get into the very actionable bits of this. What are some examples of real organizations that are using the ad grant right now?
Grant: I can talk about different ways people are using it and the different types of results that they’re driving, which will hopefully be at least good food for thought.
Some organizations are using the Google Ad Grants to recruit, for example volunteers or interns, which is a really impactful driver of their work. We had one organization we worked with where they would usually get 1 volunteer or intern application in a given month. As of last month (May 2018), they’re now getting 7 volunteers and 8 applications for internships. Now they have to actually hire someone to oversee the interns, which is a great problem to have because that persons capacity is multiplied by 15.
That’s definitely one big use case – growing the team through volunteers, interns, or in some cases hiring.
Other organizations use Google Adwords to drive revenue, which is the most straightforward application. There’s an organization called US Masters Swimming, which has a membership, and they use ads to get new members and also to have existing members renew. This has driven thousands of dollars in revenue each month from that.
People will also us it to drive physical donations. Habitat For Humanity resale stores, which it collects and resells home goods. We have organizations using that very successfully to have people who want to get rid of appliances or cabinets find them through adwords and schedule a donation pickup all online.
Another overlooked application of Adwords for the long-term is using Adwords for capturing email addresses from people who are interested in what you do or could potential future supports. You can then nurture and build that relationship overtime and hopefully, they will get more involved.
The most obvious application is organizations where they are trying to reach a target group of people that their programs and offerings actually serve. Reaching the recipients of the programs as well.
It’s all over the board, and we can dive into any of those examples, but there are quite a few applications we’ve seen and more are sprouting up every day.
Jason: It seems like Google Ads are a really great way to meet most specific organization’s needs, whether they’re trying to drive more volunteership, physical goods donations, or even revenue.
I would think revenue would be the most sought after result. Could you speak to any specific campaigns that you’re currently involved in or have been involved in the past where you were able to drive really great results in that aspect?
Grant: We can talk about the US Masters Swimming campaign specifically. So, they targeted people who were interested in swimming. They have a variety of campaigns and ad groups that are targeting specific subsets within the ad demographics.
As you drill into it there’s a whole laundry lists of them. Different subsets you can target. In their case, they’re doing it directly. They’re sending people to a paying membership page where folks have the opportunity to register or renew an existing membership. A really important step in this whole process, and probably the first and most important step in anyone who is getting started in PPC marketing channels, is making sure you can track the outcomes all the way down to completion and during each stage of the process.
For example, on the membership page how many people land on the page and how many people are completing the form and what is that represent in terms of revenue? All of that tracking is set up so we know how it’s working.
For US Masters, it’s been very successful, and I should know the numbers off the top of my head, but they are driving many thousands of dollars every month specifically from people landing on those pages that can be tracked in Google Analytics so you know exactly how folks behave when they land on the page.
Jason: How important is the landing page itself in terms of structure. I know that Google also assigns a relevancy score. Can you speak a little bit about that?
Grant: So, what you’re referring to is the Quality Score, which is assigned to ads and keywords. Google’s goal at the end of the day is to 1) generate revenue for itself but 2) make sure there’s a healthy, valuable, and useful experience for the person searching. Quality score is an attempt to get a sense for that. If someone puts in a keyword and they click on your ad is the landing page that they go to relevant to what they were actually trying to find?
Google will penalize you with a lower Quality Score if it isn’t relevant. As a result, you’ll have to bid more to get the same person. You’ll have to pay more to get the same person to come to your website. For a good experience where it’s relevant and makes sense, Google will reward you by reducing your bid cost.
So, a landing page is massively important not only because of the Quality Score, but also because of how significantly it improves your chances of actually having someone perform a conversion action or do something valuable when they land on the site.
If you don’t have relevant pages for the keywords you’re trying to target, then Google will not show your ad to that many people because it is effectively degrading the search experience for them.
There are a number of components that affect that. Is the landing page mobile friendly? If people are viewing on a desktop, tablet, or mobile device? When you’re doing mockups for a landing page we recommend looking at how it will appear on a phone because that’s how most people will be viewing the page.
I can talk on that forever and ever, but yes would be the answer – landing pages are very important.
Jason: What are one or two design aspects, outside of mobility, because I think a lot of people understand that mobile first is the way things are these days and I think you’re right people do need to check their pages because there is a slower adoption rate or maybe it’s an afterthought. But, what are 1 or 2 things you suggesting having on that landing page that helps drive that performance in getting those conversions?
Grant: I would recommend having very good tracking capabilities on the landing page because if you can’t measure it and you don’t have data on then it will be hard to improve it. There are a number of free tools that often times nonprofits haven’t heard of that allow you to watch sessions of users who land on your page. There’s a free tool we use called mouseflow,
They have a free plan, which is probably plenty for a single organization. What it lets you do is scrolling down the page on average where they’re clicking. You can actually watch individual sessions. You can see the 10 people who viewed this page today and there’s a play button next to each of those sessions. You can actually watch them scroll, move their mouse, click on to other pages. It’s almost like you’re watching over their shoulder. This is an incredible way for people to see the information you want them to see. Is it confusion, are they getting lost, how do they behave on the page, etc.
Jason: Absolutely, I haven’t heard of mouseflow. I’m familiar with Crazyegg and Hotjar. Hotjar does something similar to the video capture. The thing I love about that, and like you were saying, you can test how people are experiencing that page. If you have a video at the top of the fold of the page and no one is click on it, then is that video very useful? If you can tell that from the data and from the tracking, maybe you can tailor the page in a better way that can get the right information in front of the people and perhaps increase that Quality Score, to help drive down the cost an increase conversions.
Grant: Another problem we’ll see is having the call to action (CTA) buttons to low on a page. I was looking at a page this morning for a client that we’re trying to improve conversions on. The conversion buttons were most of the way down the page and we looked at the heatmaps and scrolling. Only 50% of people who were viewing the page got down to the call to action buttons. They didn’t even have the opportunity to convert that visitor because they never saw the button. It’s little insights like that which compound overtime.
Jason: I would just add that this is where A/B testing becomes so important, not just on the ads side, but also on the landing page. Is your copy appealing, is your message clear, are you getting you points across? Having the call to action at the top of the fold it seems to me at least very industry standard in a lot of cases. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have really good results after making that change.
Jason: Circling back with US Masters, what can other organizations do to emulate their success? Several thousands of dollars per month is not pennies for some of these smaller and mid-sized nonprofits that really survive on fundraising.
Grant: They’re a large organization, so maybe we can talk about a smaller organization to make it more relatable. We have another organization where you can donate money obviously, but also very specific pieces of equipment or materials that are helpful to them. One tactic that is surprisingly effective is listening each of those donation wish list items on either the same donation page, or ideally a separate donation page on your website, and then creating ad groups to those specific donation requests.
In this clients example, a common item that they need donated is acrylic yarn. They actually had an acrylic yarn page for anyone who has extra yarn they can donate to the organization. We created ad groups specific to “donate acrylic yarn” which is not a competitive search phrase, and not many people search for it. This meant there wasn’t much competition from other nonprofit organizations. Donors saw the ad, clicked on it, and shipped yarn to the organization.
That is one thing that could be very helpful. Listing out specifically what types of things you would like to have donated and targeting ads for each of those specific items. We leverage this same tactic with the Habitat for Humanity resale store. We have a list of 20 common household items that each go to specific landing page using very specific ads and it’s been very successful.
Jason: Yeah, I think food banks actually have to throw out a lot of canned goods because they just don’t have a long enough shelf life, or people like to donate very odd items that are sitting in the back of their cupboard, like beats. Well, it’s like we have to feed people and people don’t want to eat beats all day. So I agree, being very specific is important.
You’ll have to satisfy my curiosity here. What was the acrylic yarn used for?
Grant: This is for an organization that provides residential treatment for younger kids who need behavioral health. They have a creative outlet program where people create artistic projects as part of a creative therapy process.
Taken directly from their website: Most needed items are acrylic yarn, knitting needles, and crochet hooks. It’s an input for an art therapy class, which goes through a considerable volume of acrylic yarn.
Jason: That’s awesome. That’s great that you guys are doing that type of work and getting those resource for people who are in need.
I think the question on some people’s mind might be: what kind of advice would you give to an organization that’s thinking about about diving into ad grants?
Grant: The biggest thing I would think about is what are the outcomes that you want to achieve through ad grants. Begin with the end in mind and specifically who are the people you want to reach and what types of things are those people interest in?
The ad grants are significantly better if your website has interesting content on it that your target audience would be interested in reading about or would be searching for. The arcyrlic yarn is a wonderful example of a very specific ad accomplishing a very specific outcome.
That said, most people do not search for donate acrylic yarn. But, those people who ar elikely to suppore an animal shelfter do search for other things. Maybe they search for information on rescue adoptions or information on different types of breeds of dogs or are interested in hearing the store of people who have adopted in the past.
Making sure you have that type of content on your website is important to begin to build a relationship. This will make you significantly more successful with Google.
We think of it as a funnel. There’s this big universe of people who can support you. What content can you put on your website that would be interesting to them and what ads can you run to get them to that content? Once they land there, what can you do to get them involved in some way?
Can you capture their email address, can you have them follow you on social media, or volunteer? The point is to continue to deepen that relationship as opposed to expecting them to donate. We almost think of that as proposing marriage on the first date. You have to begin to build a relationship, bild ant emotional connection and grow that overtime.
Knowing exactly what you’re trying to achieve and knowing how the Google Ad Grant will support that will help make you dramatically more successful.
Jason: Awesome. I think you touch on a really important part – knowing your audience and doing that persona research. Do you have any advice on how organizations can go about conducting that research in a way that it aligns with their goals for the ad grant?
Grant: From a marketing background we come in and there’s a sense of building a persona for your ideal support or volunteer. We have found that organizations typically know their communities really well. They have a really good sense, because there’s so much often face to face interaction with different people that support them. They have a really good sense of who they are. Just capturing that information and making sure it’s being reflected and utilized when you’re running your campaigns.
I would say the vast majorities of the organizations we work with know the interests and psychographics of their target population. Then it’s just the experimental and creative work of figuring out knowing what we know about that audience and what they are likely to search for Google and positioning marketing content that might be appealing to them.
Jason: well grant, this has been super comprehensive. I think I’m going to go out and start my own Adwords campaign right now. Sorry, Google Ads campaign. I want to make sure I get the right technical words in there.
Is there anything else that you want to add before we close this episode out?
Grant: The only thing I would say is to encourage nonprofits to look into it. It’s such a powerful lever. We’ve seen it be successful for over 100 nonprofits of all shapes and sizes across the country. It is a one of a kind program in many ways – Facebook doesn’t have anything similar where they give you so much money in credit each month, forever.
Jason: And Grant, where can people reach out to you?
Grant: I am most active on only one social network sadly, which is LinkedIn. Would love to be connected to on LinkedIn. If I can be of help to anyone my email address is email@example.com.
Jason: And grant they can find you on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/granthensel/
Jason: Well Grant, thank you again for taking the time today for explaining everything you do and for all of the amazing stories you’ve shared. I think you guys are making a huge and positive impact in the world.
Grant: Absolutely, thanks Jason!
Grant Hensel is the founder of Nonprofit Megaphone and the RoundUp App. He is passionate about using technology to empower nonprofits to make an even greater positive impact in the world.
A lifelong learner, Grant once wrote letters to each of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies asking for book recommendations, and 150 of them wrote him back!
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