Search Engines Help Nonprofits Raise Funds, Get Publicity

Search Engines Help Nonprofits Raise Funds, Get Publicity

How GoodSearch and Google Grants can benefit your organization

By: Brian Satterfield


August 11, 2006

What if you could use a search engine to spread the word about your nonprofit or rally your constituents to raise money for your cause - all without spending a cent?

Within the past few years, search engines have devised new systems and programs to help nonprofits, schools, and charities benefit from the advertisements that appear whenever anyone enters a search term.

Two search engines offering such services are GoodSearch , which funnels 50 percent of its ad-generated revenue to various nonprofits each time one of their supporters types in a new search term, and Google, whose Grants program allows nonprofits to spread their messages to a wider audience by providing them with free advertisements that show up alongside Google search results.

These two programs are helping thousands of nonprofits raise funds and generate awareness, all without requiring existing and potential supporters to expend any extra effort.

GoodSearch: A Search Engine with a Heart

Imagine if your nonprofit's constituents and supporters could donate money to your organization each time they conducted a simple Web search. That's the idea behind GoodSearch, a Los Angeles-based search engine that diverts nearly 50 percent of its ad-generated revenue to various charities, nonprofits, and educational institutions throughout the United States.

Launched in November 2005 through a partnership with Yahoo, GoodSearch is powered by Yahoo's search engine and therefore returns the exact same results as its better-known partner. But unlike Yahoo, GoodSearch features a field where visitors can enter their favorite nonprofit or educational institution, essentially naming that organization as the beneficiary of the money their searches earn.

Most search engines make money primarily by hosting advertisements that appear based on keywords in a user's query; for instance, typing "donation software" might return ads from commercial software vendors and organizations that accept donated cars. Whenever a user clicks one of these sponsored links the advertiser pays the search engine a certain amount of money for the referral.

GoodSearch's sponsored links, also served up by Yahoo, generate revenue in the same manner as ads featured on other search engines, only the service donates half of this money to user-specified nonprofits.

"When I read that Internet search engines generated close to $6 billion in advertising," said GoodSearch co-founder Ken Ramberg, "I thought to myself, 'What if even a fraction of that money could go toward good causes?'"

Although GoodSearch only makes money when someone clicks an ad, it will disperse funds to a user's charity of choice every time they conduct a Web search — regardless of whether they have clicked a sponsored link. "It's really an effortless way for people to support their favorite charity or school," said Ramberg.

GoodSearch estimates that each time a nonprofit's supporter conducts a unique Web search, an organization will receive approximately one cent. And while this might not sound like a substantial amount of money, organizations that persuade the majority of their constituents to regularly use GoodSearch will find that the pennies can add up quickly. A nonprofit with 1,000 supporters who each perform two GoodSearch queries per day, for example, would earn more than $7,000 in just one year.

Web Searches Help Fund Medical Research

Families of Spinal Muscular Atrophy ( FSMA) - an organization dedicating to fighting spinal muscular atrophy and supporting the families of those suffering from the disease - has raised nearly $800 in just a few months by encouraging its supporters to regularly use GoodSearch.

"It is a terrific passive fundraiser from our perspective," said FSMA Communications Coordinator Lenna Scott, "one that does not require a lot of extra effort to gain a positive benefit."

Ironically, Scott didn't even realize someone had registered FSMA with GoodSearch in December 2005. But after learning about GoodSearch in a magazine and checking its database, Scott found that one of FSMA's supporters had already added the organization to its charity listsing. Once FSMA realized it could benefit from GoodSearch, it began a full campaign in April 2006, using email and newsletter requests to rally supporters.

FSMA continues to regularly remind members and supporters to use GoodSearch in hopes of keeping its fundraising momentum going. Though the organization still relies on more traditional fundraising methods such as letter-writing campaigns and garage sales, Scott does not downplay the value of using GoodSearch. "Next year FSMA will fund over $5 million in research," she said, "and every cent we raise makes a difference."

Ramberg estimates that approximately 15,000 nonprofits are actively using GoodSearch to raise money, and that about 100 new organizations are added to the site each day. U.S.-based nonprofits that don't already appear in GoodSearch's charity listings can fill out a form to be added to its database. In the future, GoodSearch hopes to expand its free service internationally.

Ramberg attributes GoodSearch's growing popularity in part to word-of-mouth referrals, which have helped it reach Web surfers and nonprofits alike. GoodSearch's site provides a prewritten "Tell A Friend" email form, which individuals and organizations can use to alert others about the service. GoodSearch enthusiasts can also promote the search engine by attaching a message to their email signatures or by adding a GoodSearch link and logo to their Web sites or blogs.

An Easy Way to Make a Difference

The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), a nonprofit formed to raise awareness about food allergies and help increase research about them, promoted GoodSearch to 30,000 of its members via its newsletter; staffers also promote the service by attaching a blurb about GoodSearch to their outgoing email signatures, according to Anne Munoz-Furlong, FAAN's founder and CEO.

So far, FAAN's efforts have yielded promising results; at publication time, the organization had raised nearly $500 in about eight months.

Munoz-Furlong believes that FAAN's supporters have fully embraced the search engine, thanks in part to its low-maintenance approach. "This program takes little time to set up," she said, "and supporters know each time they search on the Internet, they are doing something to help FAAN." Munoz-Furlong also praised GoodSearch for providing helpful instructions, as well as for its overall impact on the nonprofit sector.

"In a world where funding for nonprofits is becoming more difficult to secure," said Munoz-Furlong, "programs like GoodSearch are helping make a difference across a broad range of organizations who are trying to help others."

Google Grants: Free Publicity for Your Nonprofit

Like GoodSearch, search giant Google is also leveraging sponsored listings to help nonprofit organizations. But rather than channeling revenue earned by ad clicks to organizations, the Google Grants program offers nonprofits publicity by providing them with free Sponsored Links, ads that appear to the right of the search-results page whenever a user submits a Google query containing certain keywords.

Although the Google Foundation - the search engine's philanthropic division - forms partnerships and donates money to a select group of nonprofits, it doesn't accept unsolicited funding requests. On the other hand, any United States-based organization with 501(c)3 status or qualifying organizations in a dozen other nations are eligible to apply for a Google Grant by completing an online form. (To see application guidelines and details for individual countries, visit the Google Grants Program Details page).

Since its inception in 2003, the Google Grants program has provided free advertising to than more than 1,500 nonprofits around the world. All told, the search engine accepts about 80 percent of the organizations that apply for the program. To maximize the number of nonprofits it can work with, Google Grants are set to expire after three months, though many organizations remain in the program for much longer.

Sheryl Sandberg, Google's Vice President of Global Online Sales and Operations, suggests that nonprofits wishing to be awarded a Google Grant familiarize themselves with the basics of the program, as well as with AdWords, the search engine's proprietary online client-managed advertising system.

Google Grants applicants are asked to provide a list of suggested keywords and ad copy, as well as a personal statement explaining how participating in the program will help their organization. To help nonprofits increase their chances of submitting a successful application, Google's AdWords Information page offers a fair amount of advice on choosing the most relevant keywords for your organization's audience and crafting compelling ad copy

"Google Grants recipients use their award of free AdWords advertising on Google to achieve various goals, whether it's to raise awareness about an issue, increase Web traffic, or reach new donors or potential volunteers," Sandberg said.

Nonprofits that are awarded a Google Grant are responsible for managing their ad during its run, but Google helps nonprofits get their campaigns off the ground. "We provide grantees with a model for a successful campaign upon their start in the program," Sandberg said, "and provide grantees with the tools to monitor and evaluate their campaign performance so they can make ongoing adjustments and updates."

Additionally, Sandberg notes that the Google Grants support team is available to answer grantees' questions and offer general advice about choosing keywords and writing ad text.

Pro-Literacy Nonprofit Uses Google Grant to Drive Traffic, Retain Visibility

The Literary Center Education Network ( LCEN), an organization that provides free online literacy lessons to help parents and teachers educate their children, has seen a marked increase in traffic since it received a free Google ad in May 2005. According to Linda Hahner, LCEN's founder and CEO, more 125,000 people have clicked the organization's Google ad, helping LCEN to increase its outreach.

"Since our primary users are children with the greatest needs, this grant has proven to be invaluable in that it has helped many more parents and teachers find us," said Hahner. She notes that since the ad has been running, LCEN has seen a traffic spike in its two traditionally busiest months (January and September), and sometimes serves as many as 1.8 million literacy lessons per day.

LCEN found the Google Grants application process painless and was notified of its acceptance within a month, according to Hahner. "The process was surprisingly efficient and extremely egalitarian," she stated. "Google seems to measure results more than anything else, so a small grassroots organization can compete with larger, better-funded efforts."

Hahner also praised the Google Grants support staff for helping LCEN find the keywords that would best attract its target audience. "Their team actually must have played with our lessons before suggesting words for our Ad Campaign," she said, "because the keywords they suggested - 'Learn to Read,' and so on - were spot on."

Besides attracting more visitors to its site, LCEN's Google ad has allowed it to better retain visibility after a commercial vendor of literacy-instruction materials purchased the dot-com version of its domain name.

LCEN's Google Grant has played a role in helping the small organization hold its ground against a deep-pocketed corporation, says Hahner, who thinks the search engine's program is a "wonderful gift to the nonprofit community."

No matter what kind of good deeds your nonprofit does or which community it serves, GoodSearch and Google Grants can help it earn much-needed funds or attract new supporters and volunteers, even if its budget is nearly nonexistent. And after all, it's not every day that your nonprofit gets something for free.

About the Author:

Brian Satterfield is Staff Writer at TechSoup.


Faith (for Content):