A Conversation With Michelle Hurtado, Head of Google Ad Grants



Michelle Hurtado
Global Head of Google Ad Grants

Jeff Ostiguy, Vice President of Marketing at THD, sat down with the Global Head of Google Ad Grants, to discuss Google’s commitment to the nonprofit sector, Ad Grants program changes and how nonprofits can be successful with Google Ads.

THD: Michelle, thanks for taking a little time to talk with us today! Can you give us a brief history of the Ad Grants program?

Hurtado: Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Google Search is critical in this. We saw how effective ads on Google Search results pages were and so we started the Ad Grants program so that resource strapped nonprofits could have good access to share information on Google.com. We’ve now been giving free Google Search ads for 16 years, directly in alignment with Google’s mission. We hope that we’re helping nonprofits amplify their vital work and grow with Google: by supporting nonprofits to raise awareness, get people involved, and fundraise.

THD: What does the Ad Grants team look like? We often hear it is a small team of volunteers.

Hurtado: Ad Grants has been a small team historically but we have doubled in the last year! We are a dedicated group of 12 and we have team members who have been with Google for 14, 15 and 16 years, sitting across 6 different offices.
We also have partners we work closely with. For example, we have our Certified Professionals Community of agencies and consultants who are knowledgeable about Ad Grants and dedicated to nonprofits, so we recommend their services. We also partner with universities to offer a program for students learning online marketing to volunteer with Ad Grantees through the Google Ad Grants Online Marketing Challenge.

Last year we served about 51,000 nonprofits so we also rely on volunteers to scale our support efforts. You’ll see many of our volunteers on our educational resources such as videos and livestreams on YouTube and our new Community forums which are great platform for nonprofits to ask questions and get help quickly.

THD: In January of 2018, a number of new performance and structural guidelines were put in place for the program. Have the changes had the impact on performance that your team had hoped? What trends or changes have you seen since you made the changes?

Hurtado: Yes! We reviewed our program policies to add clarity and raise standards of quality for our free advertising grants. We want our Grantees to all be in compliance with these policies and we hope they act as a guide to optimize accounts. For example, we don’t permit single word keywords because they don’t often make a good match with a relevant ad and a user taking action on your site, so that policy prods nonprofits to build out keyword lists.

Performance metrics like conversion goals met show positive results and click through rates have more than doubled. My team is committed to helping nonprofits use their Ad Grant successfully.

THD: Have a large number of Grantees been suspended since the policy changes were implemented in January of 2018? Are more nonprofits opting to use automated options like Smart Campaigns?

Hurtado: Many nonprofits have been impacted by the policy changes but almost all fix the issue and are reactivated. Smart Campaigns is an excellent option for Grantees that can’t invest the time to manage their online ads regularly. This campaign type can be set up in just 15 minutes, and then works to constantly improve an ad around a goal, measure its performance, and show clear, understandable results. More nonprofits are using Smart Campaigns as they see the ease, but it’s still a low proportion of our Grantees.

THD: How do you plan on making compliance more smooth for all parties involved?

Hurtado: We want our Grantees to have a good experience with us and we have provided a lot of educational opportunities to nip compliance issues in the bud. Currently, we are developing an on demand report so Grantees can check compliance proactively that we think will help a lot. We send out a monthly report by email and recommend Grantees confirm their correct email is associated with their Ad Grants account to ensure they don’t miss our notices, and check spam folders just in case.

THD: One of the biggest challenges – and opportunities – nonprofits have is balancing the role of Ad Grants with their paid programs. What is Google’s point of view on how to manage that? How should nonprofits view Ad Grants vs. paid Google Ads and how can they avoid competing with themselves?

Hurtado: Indeed, Ad Grants doesn’t cover all online ad opportunity. We encourage Grantees to get to know online ads through Ad Grants and learn about what’s worth investing more in. Ad Grants is limited to Search ads on Google.com after paying ads, so investing in some paid ads extends your reach significantly and has additional features to market specifically to supporter lists and use image and video ads to drive retention and advocacy. Additionally, when something is in the news or when there is high seasonality, Grantees can capture more of that increased interest by supplementing their Ad Grants account with a paid account.

It’s important to note that Ad Grants accounts do not compete with paid Google Ads accounts. Grantees can literally duplicate their Ad Grants account to a paid one if they wish to ensure they get the top ad position. Investing in paid Google Ads may result in significantly more volume so it’s worth considering.

THD: We have seen many nonprofits be very successful with Google Ad Grants. What are your top tips when managing and evaluating the performance of ad campaigns?

Hurtado: Whether a nonprofit is brand new to online marketing or already feels pretty comfortable, I have a few recommendations: First, define success metrics. What are the few things your organization wants people to do when they come to your website and how do you know when a goal is reached online? Second, make your organization’s website a priority. Structure the website around key goals and ensure each webpage has a clear call to action. Make the user experience easy and mobile friendly – and refresh content often. Next, set up free Google Analytics to understand what happens on your website and link your goals in your Ad Grants account. The first will help you understand who views what content and the latter will help you improve your ad performance. Then, have a dedicated owner who can be proactive with new ads: learn from user experience on your website, test new ads, be ready to respond to current events and seasonality like Giving Tuesday.

THD: The Google Academy for Ads is a tremendous resource, but it can be a little overwhelming. For a nonprofit marketer, who is familiar with Google, but not with all of the tools and programs available where would you suggest they start?

Hurtado: There is a ton of information out there for nonprofits to educate themselves on how to successfully manage their Google Ads accounts. As for the Google Academy for Ads, it is a fantastic resource but we suggest nonprofits using Ad Grants get started with our tailored educational resources that are program specific and use nonprofit examples for easier consumption. We offer a range of educational and support options for our Grantees because successful online marketing takes commitment and we want to help nonprofits achieve their goals online. A few support options to note:

First, our Help Center hosts tips on how to be successful with Ad Grants such as outlining how to create effective ads and automating your bids. Second, we have our Community forums which we actively monitor for questions. Third, we host educational livestreams and videos on a variety of topics on our YouTube Channel, including how to raise ad quality and how to select keywords. We also develop case studies regularly to highlight how our Grantees are using our program and specific product features to reach their goals. These can be found on our website. Lastly, our Grantees can also leverage the Google Ads support line for help and optimization suggestions. The number is 1-866-2GOOGLE.


Everything you do in market – brand marketing, direct marketing, content, PR – it all contributes to building awareness for your organization. With awareness comes interest, and that interest is an opportunity. A solid search strategy is a critical part of how your organization can rise up and meet that interest.

If you feel like you aren’t getting the most from your Grant account, get in touch with us here at THD – we can help.

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