How We Increased Election Turnout Using Google Ad Grants

It was July 2018, and the midterm elections were fast approaching. I had recently connected with the League of Women Voters of Miami-Dade County, and they were anxious to begin their voter turnout efforts. The League’s 501c3 Education Fund primarily exists to increase voter turnout, and 2018 was an extremely critical year for this cause. Stories of voter disenfranchisement and un-counted votes abounded, and indeed only increased after election night.

So when I introduced the Google Ad Grants program to them, they were excited to say the least. A grant of $10,000 a month to advertise in Google search results was exactly what they needed! We would dedicate the entire campaign to promoting awareness of the voting process & voting rights, with the hope of enfranchising as many voters as possible.

Creating a Hyper-targeted Campaign

Later that month we set to work. We held an all-hands-on-deck video call to understand the audience, map their journey through the campaign, integrate it with other efforts and craft the right message.

An ad for each distinct question a user might have

An ad for each distinct question a user might have

Even with an audience as broad as “all adults 18+ eligible to vote in Miami-Dade County,” it was still necessary to understand more about who we were advertising to. We created several personas to exemplify different segments within the population. Most important to LWVMD were the voters in un-incorporated territories with historically low voter turnout, so we decided to give special attention to that segment.

As for the content of the campaign, LWVMD had just completed their “Voter’s Toolkit,” a collection of links, resources, and web pages designed to answer all the frequently asked questions around the election. It was a perfect launchpad. Each page spoke directly & specifically to a particular question, such as “where do I vote?” or “how do I register?” so engagement would be as maximized as possible.

Generic version of the dynamic landing pages

Generic version of the dynamic landing pages

Even so, we took the targeting one step further by creating dynamically-updated landing pages based off the user’s location. Voters in Naranja, for instance, would see ads about “How to Vote in Naranja” rather than the more generic “How to Vote in Maimi”.

That personalization carried through to the content on the landing page, too. By passing URL queries, we could update the page headline with the keyword. And if that wasn’t enough, we could even insert the location in URLs the users clicked on the page—so when someone clicked through to the Vote411 database to look up voting requirements, it would display the correct information customized to the user’s location.

The Results — Did it Work?

Performance of the Google ad grants campaign

The Ads ultimately ran from July 28th right up to the weekend before Election Day, a period of 92 days. In that short period of time we educated 7,441 people on their voting rights! That’s about .25% of the population of Miami-Dade County. It may not sound like much when described as a percentage, but considering that Florida’s Senatorial race was decided by less than 10,000 votes, it’s enough to change an election! (Note: LWV is non-partisan and does not endorse any candidates)

The impact of the campaign grows even further when one considers who those 7,441 people were, not simply how many of them there were. The majority of those educated were within our targeted areas, such as Naranja, Miami Gardens, and Gladeview—all areas of historically low voter turnout. Considering LWVMD’s goal was to increase voter participation, they were ecstatic over the results. Executive Director Marisol Zenteno said we “exceed their expectations,” which is exactly what we want to hear.

How You Can Share in this Success

As the country gears up for a presidential election in 2020, we’re making preparations to duplicate this campaign’s success, and partner with even more nonprofits across the country.

If you’re a 501c3 that’s increasing voter turnout, educating citizens, or bettering the US in some way, we’d love to work with you. Enter your email below to check your eligibility for the Google Ad Grants program, get updates on our work, and begin a conversation about your Ad Grants campaign.

2 Occasions When Ad Grants Just Won't Work

This week's growth tip is a little different because in contrast to the past few tips about successful growth, this tip is about times that growth didn't happen. We're going to briefly review 2 occasions where Ad Grants probably won't work.

These aren't hard and fast rules by any means. More like really odd Jeff Foxworthy quotes: "If you're a small, super-local nonprofit, you might not be a good fit for Ad Grants". So take them with a grain of salt.

If you want to know for certain whether your nonprofit would be a good fit for Ad Grants, request a free assessment using the contact form here.

#1 - Local Nonprofits in Rural Areas

Recently we've had assessment calls with a few local groups like VFW Posts, Guardian-ad-Litem organizations, and a kid's STEM program.

Their location relative to a large city has consistently been the biggest factor in determining if Ad Grants would be useful for their organization.

For those in a city, or who have a service area that covers a city, there's usually enough traffic to justify using Ad Grants.

But with nonprofits in the exburbs or rural areas, there simply aren't enough people searching for "VFW Post" or the like to make the numbers work out. And there's often another chapter of their org in the next county, so expanding the geographic limits of the campaign isn't an option.

I typically suggest traditional advertising methods to nonprofits with this dilemma. Things like sponsorships, signs in popular areas, or adverts in relevant publications will get your name out to as many people as possible, whether or not they were searching for you in the first place.

#2 - Straight Donation Campaigns

I often say that Ad Grants is a great tool to collect more donations—and it is! But it's usually a little trickier than just slapping together an ad directed to your donation page.

Again, we have to consider what people are searching, because that's what determines when our ads appear.

As much as we would love people to spontaneously say "I would like to donate to Such-and-Such Organization today!" It just doesn't happen. Even for huge nonprofits, there's only a couple hundred searches like that a month—branded searches are what we call them.

People searching to donate to World Vision are a very small proportion of the total amount of searches (210 vs 33,100 searches a month).

People searching to donate to World Vision are a very small proportion of the total amount of searches (210 vs 33,100 searches a month).

Instead, we need to build our campaigns around what people are already searching for. Then we can step alongside them, give them something, then ask something of them. Here's what I mean:

Let's say you're an environmental nonprofit. We can step alongside people searching for "global warming facts" or "how bad is global warming", and offer them the information they're looking for in the form of a webpage or some downloadable content. Then on the side of the page, or in a follow up email to their download, we can ask "Hey, if you appreciated that, why not support us so we can do the same for someone else?"

In that scenario, we reach far more people & gather far more donations by thinking of what they want, rather than what we want. It only took a few hours to build that webpage or download, but it will bring in traffic and donations for months to come.

In Conclusion

I hope these little tips are helpful to you as you strive to improve your nonprofit. Like I said, they're not hard and fast rules, but just things to keep in mind as you evaluate your options.

Best of luck to you, and as always, keep growing.

3 Ways to Use Google Analytics to Grow Your Website

Google Analytics (GA) is a super powerful tool. But just like any other depository of data, the amount of features doesn’t matter nearly as much as knowing how to use them. I’ve encountered many nonprofits who simply use it for checking increases or decreases in web traffic, because the amount of features is intimidating.

And I don’t blame them! So for this week’s Nonprofit Marketing Growth Tip, we’re going to uncover some uses for those deeper forms of Google Analytics data. As good marketers, we should always be looking for ways to improve, and GA provides a multitude of suggestions for us to do just that. So without further ado, let’s dig into 3 areas where GA can show us areas for growth:

Use the “Most Visited Pages” to Prioritize Updates

Using Google Analytic's Most visited page module for nonprofit marketing growth

At the very bottom of the Google Analytics home page, there’s a super useful module titled “What pages do your users visit?”.

It’s just a simple list of your website pages, in order of most visited, but I look at it as a pre-organized list of the lowest-hanging-fruit on the website.

What I mean is that, if you’re going to test out a new feature, update a blog post, or make some other change, it’s probably best to start at the top of the list and work your way down.

For example, I have about 2 hours a week to spend on website maintenance. In a vacuum, I might think that tweaking the homepage would be the best use of my time, since “everyone looks at the homepage,” right? Wrong. Based on this table, I could make an impact 100x bigger by tweaking the “Use Gmail with your Own Domain for Free” blog post.

In reality, there are a few more factors that help me decide where to allocate my time on the website. But the point is that the amount of traffic each page receives should be a prominent feature of how you decide to maintain/tweak/update your nonprofit’s website.

Find Mobile Optimization Issues with the Audience Tab

Just above and to the right of the “What pages?” module on the homepage, there’s another called “What are your top devices?” which has a pie chart of the mobile vs. tablet vs. desktop traffic to your site.

Now, that pie chart alone is super useful for determining if it’s worthwhile to invest time in mobile optimizations, but we’re looking for something else right now. So click that “Mobile Overview” link in the bottom right corner, and scroll to the bottom of the following screen.

Using Device traffic to improve nonprofit website on Google Analytics

What you’re looking for here are the columns under the “Behavior” header, highlighted in the image. This section tells you the bounce rate & time on page of visitors on mobile, tablet, and desktop.

This table is super useful for diagnosing mobile optimization issues. If your mobile bounce rate is higher than the others, it’s very possible that your mobile website is ugly, unusable, or broken.

If that’s the case, you can segment the mobile traffic by page to further break down that number. Then use that data to investigate if the issue only occurs on one page, or happens across the board.

Connect Search Console to find Keywords to Optimize for

Many nonprofits I encounter are concerned about appearing in Google’s results (aka SEO), but don’t know where to start besides stuffing pages with keywords.

A more targeted and systematic approach would include connecting Google Search Console to Google Analytics, so you can first get a list of what searches you’re already appearing on. Then, you can decide whether to play to your strengths, or branch out and try to rank for other related keywords.

I won’t go over how to connect the two, as there’s plenty of tutorials on Google’s website and elsewhere on how to do so—a quick search for “connect GA to Search Console” will bring them up. But once you do have them connected, you’ll see a screen like this in the “Acquisition” tab:

Using search console to grow nonprofit website with Google Analytics

Just like with the “Most Visited Pages” table, this list goes from most-searched to least, and it can help you prioritize your updates in a similar manner. An extra super-feature of this table (in my opinion), is the right-most column which shows your average rank in the search results. With this column, you know exactly where you stand for each keyword.

For instance, you might want to rank on the first page for “urban farming”, but your average rank is “10.9”. In that case, it might be worthwhile to invest a bit of effort in Search Engine Optimizations for that page, to see if you can breach the threshold from “10.9” to “9.9”, and maybe even higher! Traffic scales exponentially in Google search results, so just a 1 point rank increase could make a big difference in your web traffic.

How do you use Google Analytics?

That’s all for this week! Before you go, why not share a Google Analytics tip of your own in the comments section? That way, we can all learn from each other. I look forward to hearing your tips! Happy growing!

The One Ritual We Follow with All Our Clients

Something I’ve noticed about high-performing teams, businesses, and/or nonprofits, is that they have highly effective rituals. And they stick to them.

As The Digital Nonprofit, I practice one ritual in particular. And I credit almost all of our consistent growth to this method. The ritual is just a weekly “status” meeting, but we conduct it in a particular way.

I institute it with all of our nonprofit clients in some way, shape or form—our Ad Grants monthly meetings essentially follow this same formula. And for this week’s nonprofit growth tip, I’d like to share it with you, too.

The Origins of Our Weekly Ritual

The Lean Build Measure Learn Cycle for Nonprofits

This weekly meeting has its origins in the Scrum, Kanban, and Lean methods. They’re all project management methodologies based around creating focus, growth, and learning from our mistakes. The way that happens is by working in “sprints”, a period of predefined length with a specific goal & focus.

Between these sprints, we conduct short, focused meetings to review our progress and use those insights to inform where we go now. They’re typically called “Retrospectives”. It’s a fantastic system to cut through busywork, define your true priorities, and force you to focus on them for a period of time.

How a Retrospective Works

The agenda for a retrospective is very simple, which is by design. It’s all too easy to let a meeting spin out of control, so retrospectives are made to keep our focus on learning & planning.


The first step is to give a quick refresh of the previous sprint’s goal, and a bit of context around it.

For instance, my goal last week was to improve Ad Grants Assessments, because I felt like I didn’t have a good process in place for guiding the conversation. I write this out in the meeting minutes.

What Went Well?

Then it’s on to the first big question: What went well? This is a moment to remind us of our progress, share new insights with coworkers, and ensure we understand the things that are going right. If we don’t know why we’re progressing, it’s all too easy to stray from that path and mess something up.

In my scenario, I recall comments from clients like “the webinar helped me know what I don’t know” or “this discussion really put my decision into perspective”. Tidbits like that which illuminate the “why we’re growing” behind the “how we’re growing” are especially good to review at this time.

What Didn’t Go Well?

Now we turn to the flip side: What didn’t go well? Or some frame it as, “What could be improved?” Here, we examine where our efforts fell short, times when communication broke down, or unforseen hurdles that appeared in our path.

“I feel like I’m winging each meeting” and “working longer hours seemed to hurt my productivity instead of help it” were a couple of notes I wrote for myself in this portion last week.

How Can We Improve?

Finally, it’s time to consider the future. Based on the context, highs, and lows of the last sprint, you should have a few ideas bouncing around your head on what can be done better. Now is the time to offer them up, and prioritize which are most important/urgent. The goal is to generate actionable tasks you can complete in the next sprint.

Dot voting in action. Credit:

Dot voting in action. Credit:

In a group, using a tool like dot voting would be especially helpful: First, each participant offers several ideas, and presents them to the group for 20 seconds each. Then, everyone is given a few dot stickers to place on the ideas they support the most—they can place all their dots on one idea, or spread them out over a several.

In the end, the board looks a bit like a frequency graph from stats class, making it easy to determine the winner. There’s also no open-ended discussion, which removes any potential for drawn out debates on what someone thinks is best.

Now, your group has a list of actionable to-dos that will build off your previous experience to ultimately help you reach your long-term goals.

Tweaking it for Your Scenario

For me, it works best to hold these meetings on Monday morning, at the very start of the week. (I also work by myself, so it’s easy to ensure everyone attends and doesn’t talk too much!) It just feels good to redefine that focus before anything else can get in the way to distract me.

I have heard that for teams, biweekly sprints that start & end on Wednesday works best, and that sounds plausible to me. At the end of the day you can do whatever works for you. As long as you take time to regularly regroup, redefine priorities, and review your progress, you’ll be well on your way to rapid, lean growth.

If your nonprofit or team holds regular meetings like this, please comment below. The rest of us would love to learn from your insights. Have you found anything in particular that does or doesn’t work?

How to Revive a "Dead" Google Ad Grants Account

Last month, we started working with The Evolve Project, a group that conducts anti-bullying seminars for kids, their parents, and teachers. The account was left for dead by their previous consultant, and hadn’t brought in any traffic in months.

Through solid strategy and Ads management, we were ultimately able to resurrect the account. All it took was some patience and TLC. And the best part is, it’s still growing! Read on for the full story.

The Evolve Project’s Problem

TEP needed to attract more visitors through Ad Grants in order to promote an online auction & book more seminars. But the situation quickly got more complex once we looked at their account.

Their previous Ad Grants consultant had set-up the account, then disappeared and left TEP out to dry. Google Ads require constant management in order to be effective, so The Evolve Project’s account quickly devolved into nothing. Below you can see the initial, strong performance, but then a quick drop-off once maintenance was neglected.

Performance had ground to a halt

Performance had ground to a halt

By the time we got in touch with TEP, they had only gotten 14 Impressions, and not even one click in the past month.

So we took a big breath and got to work.

Step 1: Build a Solid Campaign with Manual Cost-Per-Click

The first thing we did was scrap all the existing campaigns to start from scratch. In hindsight, it may have been a good idea to export them for archiving purposes first, but it all worked out okay. Google uses historical performance as a factor for when & where they decide to show your ads, so we wanted to get as far away from the past as possible.

We then dove into Google’s Keyword Planner and TEP’s website to devise a keyword strategy that promised lots of relevant traffic. Ultimately we settled on campaigns targeting searches like “how to stop bullying” and “motivational speakers for schools”.

The most critical piece of this entire stage was to take TEP’s campaign off the “Maximize Conversions” bid strategy, and re-impose the $2 per click bid limit with Manual Cost-Per-Click.

Why would we want to restrict our bids to $2? Because Maximize Conversions uses past performance to analyze when the best time to show an ad might be. For high-performing campaigns, it’s an awesome way to extend your reach and bid limit. But in our case, it penalized us for the previous consultant’s poor job.

Manual CPC allowed us to further divorce ourselves from the past, and start appearing in relevant searches. For the first month, we allowed the account to proceed like this, just gaining some traction with Google’s algorithms:

Progress was slow, but steady with our initial strategy

Progress was slow, but steady with our initial strategy

Step 2: Flip the Maximize Conversions Switch

By the beginning of January, the account was performing well enough for us to consider flipping Maximize Conversions back on. But before we took that jump, we made sure to update what qualifies as a “Conversion” in TEP’s Ads account.

The updated Conversion Actions

The updated Conversion Actions

The whole point of Maximize Conversions is to well, maximize the amount of people performing an action on your website. If the actions you defined as conversions are broken, irrelevant, or really obscure—as was the case with The Evolve Project—Google won’t see anyone convert, and your ads won’t show as much.

By defining new conversions like “visit the contact page”, which we already know a lot of people do, we ensured Google’s algorithm will notice people engaging with TEP’s site. So when we finally went back to Maximize Conversions, the increase in traffic was dramatic!

You can see how much more traffic Maximize Conversions brought in on Jan 9th vs a whole month of Manual CPC.

You can see how much more traffic Maximize Conversions brought in on Jan 9th vs a whole month of Manual CPC.

Conclusion: Does this work?

Although The Evolve Project still has a ways to go, the initial data are telling us that this method of reviving an old Ad Grants account does indeed work.

By removing everything that would penalize us in Google’s algorithm, starting off slow in Manual CPC, and then finally moving to Maximize Conversions, we were able to build momentum towards better and better engagement.

If your nonprofit is suffering from a poorly managed Ad Grants account, contact us using the form at the bottom of the page, or leave a comment here. And as always, keep growing!

How We Increased Donations by $3,800 in 10 Minutes

Welcome to the new year, and The Digital Nonprofit’s new blog! Our new year’s resolution is to share insider tips, insights, and tricks we’ve learned on nonprofit marketing—and do it every Monday! This week, we’re sharing some interesting numbers on how a small tweak to your website copy can dramatically increase donations. Let’s dive right in:

The hypothesis

New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia is our longest-standing client, and this winter they wanted to make sure their website was ready for end-of-year appeals. It was a great inclination, since their traffic surges in December—so even just a 1% increase in donations could result in an extra thousand dollars.

One area we highlighted for an update was the main navigation. As it stood, NSM’s donate button was hidden in an awkward pop-up menu that appeared once someone moused over “Get Involved”. You can see it in the image below:

The “before” picture of New Sanctuary’s website

The “before” picture of New Sanctuary’s website

Knowing that small changes in website copy can have a big impact, we suggested simplifying the navigation.

Our hypothesis was that every little bit of extra friction reduces the chance that someone will complete their donation. In this instance, we guessed that the “Get Involved” title, pop-up menu, and distracting “for congregations” links were all points of friction. In the old menu, visitors might not have known there was an opportunity to donate at all!

In the end, we swapped out the “Get Involved” button for a simple, but more meaningful “Donate”. Here’s the result:

The “after” picture: a much clearer navigation

The “after” picture: a much clearer navigation

Since their website is Wordpress-based, it was no problem at all to re-arrange the navigation. For the time being, we put the other links in that sub-menu in the footer. All in all, it took 10 minutes.

It was sort of anti-climactic really—once the quick change was made, we just had to sit back, enjoy our holidays and wait for the numbers to roll in!

The cold, hard, numbers—did it work?

After the holidays, I dug into the data to see if anything happened, and was pleasantly surprised at the results!

Our small change increased the donation rate by 27.38% over the previous year!

Graph of donations in December 2018 vs December 2017

Graph of donations in December 2018 vs December 2017

Or put another way, 19 extra people donated this year because of these website changes! (Since 69 people donated during the given period, 27.38% of that number would be 18.8, rounding to 19).

This increase is even more important because overall website traffic decreased since last year (that’s why the first number is red in the image). So even though NSM attracted less people to their website, they got a lot more of them on average to donate once they arrived, mitigating the impact of the decreased traffic.

But what we really want to see is the difference in dollars and cents, right?

To do that, we’ll multiply the 19 extra people by average amount people donate to NSM, $200. That gives us $3,800 in donations that was brought in by this simple change.

I’ll rephrase that in case you didn’t catch it:

This 1 change that took all of 10 minutes brought in $3,800 in just one month!

Better yet, it will continue to improve NSM’s bottom line over time, and additional improvements we make will boost that number even higher.

Now, this wasn’t a perfect experiment, because we’re comparing year-over-year results rather than an A/B test, and we’re just below the number of conversions necessary to make the results statistically significant. That said, NSM’s website has not dramatically changed during that year, and since we already know from other studies that these changes do in fact work, we can confidently claim at least some improvement as a result of this tweak.

Although not statistically significant, the margin is large enough to confidently say it made a difference.

Although not statistically significant, the margin is large enough to confidently say it made a difference.

The power of small changes

I mean, even if it only brought in an extra $100 a month, wouldn’t that be worth the 10 minutes we spent?

I think it would—that’s what we’re all about at The Digital Nonprofit. Using data, industry knowledge, and insights from real donors to find the smallest possible change that will yield the biggest possible impact.

Especially in small organizations like New Sanctuary, this philosophy is especially powerful. In the past year, they’ve likely spent less than $2000 on our services, and just this one change brought all that money back in, and more!

If you want to discover small changes that can increase your nonprofit’s donations, schedule a call with us by clicking the button below. We’ll take a deep dive at your challenges, offer tips, and crunch the numbers to see what you stand to gain.

Announcing: Weekly Nonprofit Marketing Insights!

Data-driven nonprofit marketing pros are always testing, iterating, and looking for ways to grow. And looking back over 2018, we can see we’ve grown a lot! Some of our clients increased their online donations by 50% or more, others extended their reach to thousands of new people. Every week, it seems like there’s a new trick learned or insight gained.

But once we gain that new knowledge, it’s written down somewhere and starts collecting dust. Maybe is even forgotten. And we’re guessing the same thing happens to you.

Wouldn’t it be better if we had somewhere to share what we’ve learned, so others can grow too, and maybe even offer an insight we didn’t see at first? What would happen if we shared all the “trade secrets” we learn along the way, so others could follow in our footsteps?

That’s why we’re reinventing this blog to create a community for growth. Here at The Digital Nonprofit, we preach continuous improvement by listening to real humans and hard data. So we’re going to put our money where our mouth is, and start sharing real, behind-the-scenes insights for growing your nonprofit through digital marketing

Every Monday, we’ll post about what we’ve learned, including:

  • Real nonprofit success stories

  • Mistakes you can learn from

  • Quick tips to grow your nonprofit

  • Q&As on creating “lean” growth at your nonprofit

And you’ll be able to share your responses, tips, or rebuttals in the comments, along with 700+ other nonprofit marketing pros!

The first batch of marketing insights is dropping this Monday, 1/7/19, We’ll share how much of a difference “Donate” vs “Get Involved” makes, and how to use Google Grants even for super-niche campaigns.

Click the button to subscribe to the blog so that you don’t miss them!