Jonathan Saipe

Google Grants – Why we love them at Médecins Sans Frontières

23 February 2009, Jonathan Saipe

Médecins Sans Frontières logoImagine someone giving you $10,000 a month to do with it as you please. Sounds good? Well if you like the sound of that and you’re a charity, you should check out Google Grants.

When we were re- developing our website last year (, we were introduced to the Google Grants system by our web project manager who had worked for Google previously. The grant had been arranged by our US office on behalf of all the international offices of MSF some time before, and she was amazed that we had not made use of it before then.

What is Google Grants?
Google Grants is a scheme that provides charities with free PPC (pay-per-click) advertising using the Google AdWords System. It provides up to $10,000 per month, possibly more if you apply for the extended Grants program, for charities to spread their message and solicit donations online. Any registered charity can apply to be a part of the scheme, and based on our experience over the last year, my advice would be to get involved!

Restrictions using Google Grants
There are of course some restrictions placed upon advertisers using the Grants scheme as opposed to a standard Google AdWords Account.

The first restriction is that you are limited to a $1 maximum CPC (cost per click) bid. This means there is no chance to buy your way to the top of listings (or even anywhere near the first page for many keywords!); instead you have to focus on the enigma that is “Quality Score”, which in itself is not a bad thing. We don’t just want to drive traffic to our site, but rather we want quality traffic that will result in an action.

The second is that you are only able to use the search network ( or and not the content network or site placement. This is understandable as Google is basically handing out free cash to charities, so they don’t want this passed around.

You are also faced with a few problems when it comes to Google’s editorial policy for the adverts. I am sure that these problems are encountered by standard AdWords users as well as recipients of the Grant, however they are worth noting here. The most common problem that we have, and I am sure many other charities would have as well, comes from our field of work, namely medicine. Google editorial policy prohibits the advertising of pharmaceutical products and unfortunately this seems to cover our French name (Medecins). Luckily there is an appeal process, so that you ad can be referred to a human being (I guess?) rather than the automated clearing process.

Getting started with Google Grants
Google Grants logoWhilst the idea of using the Grants system was a bit intimidating at first, lots of jargon and new concepts and no previous experience of online marketing, we slowly started to make use of it. A bit of guidance on the basic principles and how to structure a campaign was all that we needed to start getting our ads out there. And that is the beauty of the Grants system; it doesn’t matter if you make mistakes. I can’t think of any other way that a complete novice would be given $10k per month advertising budget and told to go and “have a play” with it!

How Google Grants has helped us
Over the last year our use of the grant has grown and we now spend our budget most months. We have used the grants for general communication, soliciting donations and also recruitment of office staff and volunteers. We have doubled traffic to our site and increased our online revenue significantly; quite an achievement in the current climate.

“From sceptic to convert”
So, you may think that we would be happy to leave it at that; loads of free advertising that increases traffic to our site and also increases revenue. But this is just the start. I have been transformed from e-marketing novice (with a rather sceptical opinion of it) into some who now cannot get enough of CTR’s, CPC’s and conversion rates. The learning is continuing with a focus on converting the traffic that we acquire from our AdWords in a more efficient manner. We are continually A/B testing our Ads and refining our keywords with a view to ensuring that we can always place high despite the $1 CPC limit.

Monitoring our AdWords campaigns
And again the great thing about Google Grants is that we don’t pay for it and so we don’t need to be obsessed with its management. It can be set up and run when you have a few spare minutes in your day. In general I check how things are going daily and may make minor adjustments that take a few minutes. In addition to this monitoring, we spend a couple of hours roughly once a month to go through each Campaign, Adgroup, Keyword and Ad more thoroughly.
Obviously the more that you put in to it the more you will learn and get out of it. I am sure that we are not harnessing the complete power of our Google Grant. We are however improving all the time, becoming more sophisticated and we are not paying anyone for the pleasure!

This article was written by Sam Knight of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

See more information on the Google grants programme.

Learn more more about Google AdWords training.