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Analyze and Amplify Your Nonprofit’s Return on Ad Spend with These Expert Tips


By Dara Daly

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Published September 20, 2023 Reading Time: 5 minutes

This blog was written by Dara Daly, who brings over a decade of experience in managing paid advertising campaigns for a diverse range of B2B and e-commerce companies. Dara is the Manager of Digital Marketing and SEO at Classy.

Whether you’re a nonprofit using Google Ads, Google Ad Grants, or a combination of the two, it’s critical to understand if your investments pay off. Your return on ad spend (ROAS) is particularly critical to the success of your search ads, website traffic, and, therefore, the success of your larger nonprofit marketing efforts.

Discover if your ads convert and fuel donations or if you’re spending without a return. We’ll cover how to evaluate your returns at the account, campaign, and ad group level. Plus, we’ll give tips to improve your ROAS if your numbers aren’t where you want them.

Types of Google Ads for Nonprofits

Google Ads is a powerful tool for nonprofit organizations to increase visibility and activate engagement. There are various Google Ad options nonprofits can test:

Google Search Ads

Google Search Ads show at the top of the search engine results page (SERP) before organic listings, but only appear to those already searching for your product or service. These ads use a pay-per-click model in which you pay for each click your ads initiate. An auction system determines the pricing.

Google Displays Ads

Google Display Ads are paid placements across Google’s Display Network (GDN), consisting of millions of websites and apps owned by Google and others, based on various targeting parameters.

These placements can appear as banner text ads on Facebook, video ads on YouTube, or ads across the other two million sites making up the GDN.

Performance Max, Demand Gen, and Shopping campaigns are available as well, although nonprofits typically don’t utilize them as much. But depending on your goals and audience, these may be the right campaign options for you.

  • Performance Max campaigns: Combine Google AI technologies across bidding, budget optimization, audiences, creatives, attribution, and more to complement your keyword-based search campaigns and help you find more converting customers across all of Google’s channels.
  • Demand Gen campaigns: Help social media marketers who buy on social platforms and entertainment-focused touchpoints find and convert consumers with immersive, relevant, and visual creatives.
  • Shopping campaigns: Show users a photo of your product, plus a title, price, store name, and more, to familiarize users with your products, resulting in more qualified leads.

Google Ad Grants

Google Ad Grants offers up to $10,000 per month for eligible nonprofits. The program allows you to display ads for your nonprofit alongside Google search results for keywords you choose. You can also customize your ads to appear in certain regions through geo-targeting or at particular times to help fuel more meaningful conversions.

While you’re eligible to receive upward of $10,000 a month in free advertising, it can be difficult to use the entirety of the grant. Space for these ads sell on a bidding system, and Ad Grants users’ bids get capped at $2.00 per click. Although it’s more challenging to compete for popular and general keyword phrases because of these limitations, you can still show up in searches relevant to your organization by conducting thorough keyword research and choosing your keywords wisely.

It’s also critical to note that the Google Ad Grants program has rules to comply with, so we recommend working directly with a Google Ads Grant-certified agency for assistance with grant applications, Google Ad Grant management, understanding eligibility requirements, and any other relevant tasks.

Set Yourself Up for Success with Accurate Data

Prior to calculating your ROAS, it’s critical for your team to establish proper tracking processes. This means making sure your donation data flows into Google Ads and your Google Ads traffic accurately records within your fundraising platform.

On Classy, nonprofits can set up Google Ads tracking and Google Analytics 4 tracking to ensure you’ve accounted for everything. If you have both set up, select one as your primary conversion source to avoid accidentally counting your donations twice.

How to Calculate ROAS

Now that we’ve covered the why behind calculating returns and how to prepare, it’s time to do a little math.

To calculate the ROAS for your Google Ad campaigns, use the following formula:

ROAS  = (Donations received from ads/spend on ads) * 100

Let’s look at an example.

You see that your ads brought in $22,150 in donations over the last 30 days. During that time, you spent $14,000. Your ROAS formula would look like so:

(22,150/14,000) * 100 = 158%

You have a positive ROAS, as you brought in more in donations than you spent. Anything over 100% is a positive ROAS, while anything below 100 is a negative ROAS. However, keep in mind that your ROAS will differ by campaign type.

For most nonprofits, search campaign ROAS will be much higher than display or video ROAS. This is due to intent and targeting.

Get Granular with Reporting to Source Impactful Optimization Opportunities

You can calculate your ROAS at all levels to get a better understanding of your advertising efforts, then use those findings to optimize your strategies to achieve larger returns.

Tri-Level Evaluations

To calculate ROAS at the account, campaign, and ad group level, apply the following calculations:

  • Account level: Your total donations driven from all Google Ads divided by your total spend.
  • Campaign level: Your total donations attributed to your ad campaign divided by the cost of that campaign.
  • Ad group level: Your total donations attributed to your ad group divided by the cost of that ad group.

This can help you understand what campaigns to invest more in and optimize your strategies accordingly.

How to Automate Your Calculations

Want to see your ROAS without having to calculate it each time? Add it in as a column. In Google Ads, it’s called “Conv. value / cost.”

Optimizing Ad Spend for Highest Return

If you’re not thrilled with your current ROAS, it may be time to revisit your ad ideation and implementation process. Part of that involves looking at your bid strategies. Using Google’s smart bidding and a Target ROAS bid strategy can help you optimize for the ROAS level you want to achieve.

For ad groups or campaigns with a low ROAS, we recommend:

  • Pulling search term reports that show which keywords your ads pull for.
  • Negating keywords not relevant to your cause.
  • Double-checking your location targeting. (We recommend keeping this set at “Presence: People in or regularly in your targeted locations,” especially if you serve a local market.)

To optimize your display campaigns, pull a placement report and negate poor placements here as well. You can also negate apps and websites with high click-through rates (CTR) and low conversion rates, as both can bring in more accidental clicks.

Once you’ve looked at everything, shift your focus to optimizing your landing page. Using a high-quality stand-alone donation site with a headline and body paragraphs that match your ad copy can help elevate the user experience and increase conversions. 

For more helpful tips on how to optimize your campaign’s homepage, explore these eight essential donation page best practices

Put Your Learnings into Action

With your newfound expertise, it’s time to look into your Google Ads account and start deep diving to gauge the returns on your advertising investments. By consistently monitoring and optimizing your ROAS, you can ensure that every advertising dollar you spend contributes to the growth and success of your mission.

Interested in learning more about how Classy’s comprehensive fundraising platform can support your nonprofit’s conversion tracking and marketing efforts? Explore all the tools we offer in our integrations hub.

Copy Editor: Ayanna Julien

The Nonprofit's Guide to Google Ad Grants

Your Nonprofit's Guide to Google Ad Grants

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