Should Small Nonprofits Apply for Google Ad Grants?

A Case Study with the Cannabis Center of Excellence

The Cannabis Center of Excellence (CCOE) is a nonprofit organization that focuses on conducting citizen research and science-focused studies around medical and adult-use cannabis. This nonprofit brings together citizens, medical patients, academics, researchers, community members, healthcare professionals, policymakers, and consumers who aim to break the stigma around cannabis and advance social justice in the industry. 

This organization acts as both a virtual resource and a large network for cannabis professionals and consumers – a resource where the public can share and learn about online, collaborative, and innovative research and educational programs that drive change in accessible cannabis, best practices, and equity for all. 

As a  501c3 non-profit, CCOE came to Cannabis Creative Group with their newly gifted Google Ads grant, looking for help to elevate their fundraising efforts toward medical cannabis research for patients and veterans. 

With immense appreciation for the work and advocacy of this non-profit, our digital marketing agency donated our expert PPC service to help CCOE run a three-month Google Ads campaign. 

While the overall results of this ad campaign were disappointing for the CCOE given Google’s limitations, our digital marketing team is very grateful for the efforts and learning opportunities that this brought to CCG. This blog demonstrates the realities of a nonprofit organization trying to utilize a Google Ad Grant, encouraging organizations to weigh the pros and cons of whether it’s worth applying for one. 

What are the Benefits of Google Ad Grants for Non-Profit Organizations?

According to Google, the benefits of these Google Ad Grants are to raise awareness of specific causes, reach those who need help,  drive more website traffic to your nonprofit, and accurately track and report all marketing efforts. In exchange for an approved application, each non-profit gets $10,000 of in-kind advertising from Google to create text-based ads and gain access to tools for effective campaign strategy. 

When CCOE initially applied for the Google Ad grant, the non-profit filled out a simple application form and was approved and awarded $10,000 for the Ad Grant within 24 hours.  

With their understanding and community of consumers who have benefitted from the cannabis plant, the organization was on a mission to turn around the biased literature and perception out in the world and instead, address and cite their research findings.

When CCOE came to us with a Google Ad grant, they were looking for specific help and support with fundraising for upcoming cannabis studies:

In all, the goal of this Google Ad grant was to raise awareness about the CCOE’s ongoing research studies and hopefully gain additional donations. 

The Basics of Google Ad Grants for Nonprofits

To maximize our digital advertisement strategy and efforts for CCOE, our agency reviewed the basic rules of Google Ad Grants for non-profit organizations. The rules are as follows: 

  • Non-profit ad campaigns must maintain a 5% account click-through rate (CTR).
  • Keyword quality scores cannot be below a 2 rating. No overly generic keywords or competitor’s branded keywords. 
  • There must be at least 2 active ad groups per campaign, and at least 2 site-linked ad extensions.
  • The non-profit account must use specific geo-targeting.
  • $2.00 cost-per-click bid maximum (only automated bidding strategies like Maximize Conversions or Cost Per Acquisition can break this maximum). 
  • The non-profit account must be logged in at least once monthly and have one or more changes implemented every 90 days. (If activity is not shown, Google will suspend your account and you’ll have to request to be reinstated). 

Maximum budget per day is $329. 

While Google’s rules seem straightforward, the combination of these regulations with the reality of staying compliant with cannabis posed a challenge to the success of our campaigns.

The Google Ad Challenges & Our Marketing Solution 

As a non-profit in scientific cannabis research, the CCOE recognized the very limited sources they had available for this type of cannabis research, which is the main reason why they attempted to explore a new way of crowd-sourced funding through Google Ads. 

More importantly, CCOE noticed the lack of advocacy and support in cannabis studies and research. Historically, 95% of most international and national funding for cannabis research is designed to fund studies highlighting the harm and risks of cannabis use, which is the complete opposite of what CCOE stands for. 

To kick off this Google Ad campaign for CCOE, our digital marketing team worked to build out the marketing ad strategy and designed and built a landing page with captivating ad copy that adhered to Google’s guidelines. 

The two ad campaigns focused on Veteran studies and opioid recovery programs with health and wellness terminology and keywords. No cannabis-related terms were incorporated. 

Our PPC team used the “maximize conversions” feature as their bidding model and strategy for Google Ads, hoping it would help to increase the campaign’s visibility. G-Tag conversions instead of importing through Google Analytics helped both CCOE and CCG determine their conversion goal and accelerate this bidding process. 

Additionally, we made sure each campaign had at least two active ad groups, removing all instances of single-word keywords to align more with the rules and basics of Google Ad grants for nonprofits. Throughout the lifespan of the ads running, we also increased our maximum cost per click (CPC) rate to $100 a day. 

The Results 

Our digital marketing team worked diligently to adhere to the strict and specific guidelines for Google Ads for nonprofits by adjusting parameters throughout the 3 months. We knew we had to tread carefully with our marketing efforts considering the illicit federal status of cannabis. Despite following all the rules and practices for a nonprofit to run an ad campaign on Google, the results felt disappointing and discouraging for CCOE. 

Here’s how our Google Ads Specialists described the issue: “Imagine a store gives you a free $10,000 shopping spree every month. Sounds pretty great, right?

But there is a rule: You can’t spend over $2 on a single item and the lowest-priced item in the store is $12.

Not so great anymore. That is basically what Google is doing with the Ad Grant accounts.”

As a result of this three-month ad campaign: 

  • We were unable to generate a high volume of search traffic from either ad campaign due to our limitations from the Google Ads grant. 
  • Even with the maximum CPC limitations set, it was practically impossible for CCOE to gain impressions given the average CPC for these keywords associated with the campaign is at a much higher limit. 
  • Over the entire 6 month lifetime of this nonprofit’s Google Ad account, CCOE was only able to generate 23 impressions and 5 clicks across the active campaigns. 
  • The total spend on all ad campaigns from CCOE’s Google Ad Grant was $31.16. 

“A significant amount of effort was put in by the CCG and CCOE teams to set up a new website, adhere to all guidelines provided by Google, and ensure that the keywords would reach the right audience. As we tried to implement campaigns, it became apparent that Google restricts nonprofits,” President of CCOE, Dr. Marion McNabb,  weighed in on the Google Ad Grant experience. 

“I am very disappointed. These Google Ad grants are misleading for small nonprofits, particularly non-profits that are focused on cannabis. The restrictions on ad spend do not allow any sort of level playing field to compete for ad spend and visibility.”

Are Google Ad Grants Effective in Helping Your Small Non-Profit Organization? 

For small nonprofits dedicated to advancing scientific research related to cannabis, it is often hard to find funding and opportunities to get the word out due to restrictions in advertising and fundraising related to cannabis. 

The results of this Google Ad campaign sparked questions as to how beneficial these Google Ad grants are for small nonprofit organizations such as CCOE. Larger organizations and companies with more leverage and advantage for proper ad spend result in higher visibility. Our experience with CCOE portrayed an unequal opportunity for smaller businesses or nonprofits, especially in the cannabis industry. 

Although the ad campaign’s results were not the desired end goal, CCG appreciated learning about the discrepancies and roadblocks that Google presented, while the CCOE is still extremely grateful for the collaboration and donation of services. 

Learn More From CCOE

Despite the challenges we faced in spreading awareness and helping raise funds for CCOE research studies, the organization has completed its recent study “Cannabis as an Alternative to Substance and Drug Use.” It has been shared in publications like the Journal of Clinical Therapeutics, Science Direct, and Talking Joints Memo.

While Google may have hindered additional exposure and funding for this study, the team at CCOE continues to work hard to share their passion for ending the stigma and providing alternative education backed by research.

Collaborate with Cannabis Creative for PPC Advertising

“The Cannabis Center of Excellence is very grateful for the donation, time, and detailed support to implement these Google campaigns. When the CCOE was awarded the grant, we did not have the capacity to execute. We reached out and are so grateful for the donation from the Cannabis Creative Group to help.” 

Is your small business or nonprofit considering applying for a Google Ad Grant or trying out ads for your cannabis business? Reach out to CCG to learn more about digital advertising, weigh out the pros and cons for your organization, and let us help you work towards nonprofit marketing success. 

Contact our marketing team to learn more!