Google now denies program to nonprofits they used to serve

I’ve been struggling whether to write this post or file it under “don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” Guess which won?

At Fight Colorectal Cancer, we switched from web host email to Google Apps in 2007 and we haven’t looked back. Last summer, I set up Google Apps for my synagogue. Both IRS-recognized nonprofit organizations are using the Education Edition of Google Apps, which offer more features, support and storage space than the Free edition. In both cases, I only had to fill out a simple form providing the organizations’ Tax ID number to verify its nonprofit status.

Google used to offer the Education Edition free of charge to any 501(c)3 organization. That changed with the new consolidated Google for Nonprofits which was launched with fanfare last March. Unfortunately, Google now denies acceptance to a significant number of nonprofit organizations it used to welcome.

Before the new consolidated Google for Nonprofits launched in March, an organization had to apply separately for the nonprofit/education edition of Google Apps, Google AdWords, Google Earth and YouTube. Each had its own eligibility requirements. Now organizations can apply and qualify once and get all the products.

From a nonprofit’s perspective, the hardest product for a nonprofit to get donated from Google has always been AdWords (also known as Google Grants). With good reason. There’s a huge difference between a product that essentially costs Google nothing to provide individually to organizations and does not directly compete with products they sell, and giving away $10,000/month worth of advertising. Google has always had very strict eligibility requirements on Google Grants/donated AdWords. Not all nonprofits qualified. Among the restrictions: No selling products, no prosthelytizing, no trying to influence elections, etc. For the record, I have absolutely no problem with these restrictions. Fight Colorectal Cancer received its Google Grant years ago and works very hard to stay within the program’s tight guidelines, and we were recently rewarded with a Grantspro upgrade.

Consolidating all the Google nonprofit offerings seemed like a great idea. Efficient. Easier for nonprofits and I’m sure much easier on Google staff. But what happens when you combine a product that used to be simple for any nonprofit to get (Google Apps) with one that used to be difficult for nonprofits to get (AdWords)? Of course Google has to keep its tighter restrictions on free advertising (which again, competes with paid advertising) so the restrictions on the other products were changed to the lowest common denominator–Google Grants.

According to the new eligibility requirements, that means no Google Apps for:

Communities and Groups

  • Programs requiring membership and/or providing benefit solely to members, such as clubs, sports teams, alumni, networking and other membership organizations
  • Religious content or proselytizing on website as well as organizations that use religion or sexual orientation as factor in hiring or populations served
  • Groups serving a primarily political function such as lobbying, think tanks and special interests
  • Schools, childcare centers, academic institutions, and universities, unless the organization’s sole (entire) purpose entails serving a disadvantaged community (e.g., the blind, hearing impaired, low-income members, etc.) or the organization is a philanthropic arm of a school (e.g. research programs)
  • Places or institutions of worship (e.g., churches, ministries, temples, synagogues)

Ironically, private schools that restrict admission based on religious factors can still get Google Apps Education, while nonprofits freely donating services to the same communities are now locked out.

Thankfully for my synagogue, it appears that organizations that were using Google Apps for Education since before the change are grandfathered and won’t lose the service. Am I nervous that will change? Truthfully, yes. There’s nothing except loss of good will that stops Google from enforcing their new guidelines on existing program recipients.

For every Westboro Baptist Church there are tens of thousands of churches that provide valued service to community. Most offer programs that are fully open to all regardless of religious affiliation. Many, like my synagogue, are staffed entirely by dedicated volunteers.

What’s frustrating is that Google has been silent about this change despite pleas for explanation in their support forum. I’m assuming that AdWords restrictions are the reason behind the change. It could be something else. Google won’t say. They changed the rules mid-game, slipping the change quietly under the door hoping no one noticed. I noticed. So have others.

Once again, I fully understand why a church or synagogue does not qualify for donated AdWords. That policy should not change in my opinion. However, I wish they would offer a separate application for Google Apps for those organizations that used to qualify and now don’t for reasons having nothing to do with Google Apps. Or at least explain to the rejected churches and synagogues exactly why they’re left out when similar organizations used to be accepted.


4 responses to “Google now denies program to nonprofits they used to serve”

  1. Thank you for the explanation, Judi. I understand that it is their product and their rules, but the silence really make for a frustrating experience.

    The unfortunate truth is, when we take something of value for free from an outside group, we become “slaves” to that group. I am active in the Catholic Knights of Columbus and for this very reason, I always encourage our local council to think long and hard about excepting free services that come with strings attached.

    • Thanks, Paul. I presented what I *think* is an explanation but the truth might be something completely different. I posted this in the hope of starting a dialogue so organizations can get an answer once and for all.

  2. Personally, the thing that appalls me the most about Google is there complete non-support for their products and their end users. Trying to get a response from a real human for anything to do with their non-profit stuff (or anything else for that matter) is an exercise in extreme frustration. Not only does it take months for them to finally respond to your application, you also get an automated and extremely unhelpful response telling you that your organization was rejected (together with a list of criteria that you do, in fact, meet). You try to find out how to appeal the decision and… crickets. What do you do? Send a reply to their automated email that goes nowhere (we tried btw, just in case). Try the forums for their products. Utterly useless.

    After hunting high and low for some evidence of a human being to contact we find their forums for non-profits where there does at least appear to be someone working for Google responding. However, our message was ignored for another week or so and when they finally responded we were told we were rejected, but with no reason provided again. Requests for clarification of the reasons still go unanswered.

    We almost gave up at this point and I was sorely tempted for us to pull every use of Google products we made because of this. However, we got lucky and managed to find someone who knew someone inside Google. A few days later the (incorrect rejection) decision was overturned and we now have a non-profit account. But it is over 5 months later and it only happened because of sheer luck.

    How is it that a non-profit organization like ours, running on a threadbare budget and with resources and people stretched to the limit, is able to provide support to our users that is a million-fold better than Google’s? How?

  3. This is really strange. My daughter’s child care center recently received a Google grant (or whatever it is called). They are a 501 c 3 and provide 1/3 of their spots to teen parents, so they definitely serve the community, but not solely that group. I wonder how they qualified?