Keyword research is the process of discovering word phrases users are likely to use to find your website or content. Nonprofits who want to develop and learn about keywords should note that the typical phrases that you wish to be found for could be high competition within the sector. There are no pre-defined keyword templates that nonprofits can use for Search Engine Optimization.

In the fast-paced digital age, nonprofits need to understand the crucial role that keywords play in online visibility and search engine rankings. The art of keyword-focused content is paramount to driving organic traffic and enhancing a nonprofit’s brand recognition. This guide will unravel the secrets to keyword research and optimizing your content for search engines, ensuring that your valuable messages reach the right audience at the right time. 

In the following training, I will use a fictitious reading literacy nonprofit as my example. Please note that the information listed below is for training purposes only. Do not use the keywords for your nonprofit. Develop your own keyword list. 

You will need to get access to the keyword list used in this blog post. Note these list are not comprehensive nor have the keywords been filtered. Please fill out the form below to get access to the keyword training list.

The Way Nonprofits Have Approached Keyword Research

A lot of nonprofits I have talked with in the past have one focus: they need donors. They want to optimize content for donors. They focus on donation-type keywords without understanding the landscape of keyword research and its purpose.

For example a keyword like “donate to a nonprofit”, “donate”, or “donations” are ambiguous and do not give any context of what the user wants to donate. The user may need to donate clothing, a car, or other things – not money.

If your nonprofit is expecting to find new donors with these “donation” type keywords, let me give you context as to the amount of competition and Google Ads’ average cost per click for similar keywords. During Giving Season – Giving Tuesday to December 31 -the cost per click of donation-type keywords can reach as high as $125 per click – yes you read that right. During other times of the year, the cost per click can be upwards of $7 -$10. Every click (and probably very few) clicks will generate a donation for the nonprofit. A Google Ad campaign focused solely on donation keywords can be a very costly campaign and have zero value or ROI for the nonprofit.

In the above image, the average monthly search for “donation” keywords is about 4.7 million per month in the US. Over two-thirds of those searches are completed using mobile devices. In Google’s Ads keyword planner tool, two keywords were used to generate a list of keywords. You can download a list of the keywords. The keywords are for training purposes only. Do not use these keywords for your nonprofit.

After you look at the dataset, the first thing you will notice is that over 1-2 million of the searches are for “goodwill near me” type keywords. This keyword may be super unhelpful for your nonprofit unless the nonprofit has a resell store. If you continue through the keyword list, you can start to see patterns develop in the keyword list. A majority of the searches probably will not be helpful to your nonprofit organization.

How to do keyword research for nonprofits – the right way.

The first thing you need to do is determine what services the organization offers. If your nonprofit is too generic, then you may not be able to determine which target audience you need to reach. The first thing is to be very specific about what your nonprofit does at this moment. Don’t focus on future or speculative activities. List every service the nonprofit offers right now.

The second step is to categorize each service. For example, if the nonprofit has an outreach program for youth to increase reading literacy from ages 8-16 years old, then the category should be reading literacy or improving reading. Make a list of the different phrase people use to talk about reading literacy.

The third step know the goal of the nonprofit’s marketing strategy. If the goal is to increase enrollment for the outreach program, then keywords such as youth reading programs are not very helpful. Google Ads suggest that there are fewer than 20 searches per month for “youth reading programs” within the United States. Now let us focus on ways to use keyword research for nonprofits.

Keyword Research What Type of Competition Exists For the Nonprofit?

One purpose of keyword research is to determine competitiveness within the nonprofit’s market space. Let’s go back to the summer reading program for kids (or as our fictitious nonprofit likes to call it “youth development program for reading comprehension”). Just a quick Google Ads Keyword research shows that people are probably searching Google for reading apps for their kids and don’t use the long jargony keyword above. Parents like easily accessible options such as an app.

The keywords I entered into Google Keyword Planner tool were: summer reading, summer reading program, literacy program, and how to improve reading. The keyword planner tool created a list of 3,392 keywords for this set of keywords (you can find the keywords in the training dataset under the tab reading program keywords). The keyword at the top of the list with the most searches were core 5 lexia and reading eggs. Lexia Core 5 is a reading app used by teachers within school districts and Reading Eggs is a subscription-based reading comprehension tool. The keyword research shows that the apps have two different target markets – Lexia Core 5 (school districts and teachers) and Reading Egg (for parents with kids between 4-8 years old).

Whether you know it or not, these apps are competition for the nonprofit that offers reading comprehension to children. Why? People are more likely to find these two in a search engine or paid advertisement before the nonprofit’s page. Why? Because Reading Egg and Lexia Core 5 use keywords such as improve student to be found by search engines.

A nonprofit needs to know who ranks for a set of keywords on a Search Results Page. Below is a screenshot of a Google Search Result Page for the keyword “how to improve a child’s reading”. The first two results are paid advertisements. Users are highly likely to click through to those two ads first. If they don’t find what they need on those pages they return to the SERP page and probably will click an organic search result or alter their original search. The first organic search result is – another paid subscription plan. Click on image below to open in a different tab, so you can see a SERP page and competition for a keyword the keyword.

How to do keyword research for nonprofits

All three of the first results have invested money into ads and/or quality content. You may be wondering why I am not placing our fictitious nonprofit against other nonprofits. Well, one simple reason. Competition for organic search exists with both for-profits and nonprofits. It would be a false statement to tell you that a nonprofit’s digital competition is just another nonprofit. Online competition exist from other businesses and nonprofits.

What Nonprofits Need to Know About Keyword Research & Geolocation Targeting

If the nonprofit has issues reaching its target population, then quick keyword research will help determine why. People don’t use complicated jargon unless they are part of an industry. So step four is to simplify your keywords to the target audience you want to reach. If you are a nonprofit that is in one specific geolocation, then you need to further hone your keywords down with “near me” type keywords. For example, reading programs near me, reading programs for 6-year-olds [replace with zip code], and reading programs for children with dyslexia [replace with city name].

People are more likely to use location-based keywords to find local services than they would national services. People are also more likely to use simplified words -not youth – to describe their child. If you narrow the scope down by city (in my example, we narrowed it down to New York City, New York), then Google Ads Keyword Planner tool can give a list of keywords that match the local city. Below are the past year’s searches for the same keywords narrowed down to New York City.


I went to Google Search and entered ‘how to improve a child’s reading” in the search bar. In the top results, I only saw one nonprofit which is an initiative of WETA a PBS broadcasting station. That only took about 3-4 minutes of discovery work to get that connection. But again, this is a program that you should have on your list of competitors. You want to know what your competitors are doing to reach their target audience. Reading Rocket’s target audience appears to be teachers. However, the content on the website is easy to follow for parents as well.

Nonprofits Can Use Keyword Research To Assist with Content Development

By completing a bit of keyword research for a nonprofit’s reading program, I have discovered that if the program wants to increase enrollment in their literacy program, they need to do a few things:

  1. Don’t focus on donation-type keywords.
  2. Consider investing in tools to assist parents with reaching the nonprofit faster – like app development or investing in website content (content marketing) to help improve children’s literacy that can be done online.
  3. Think like a parent and the challenges the target audience has and how to best met the target audience’s needs.
  4. If the program is locally based, then use geolocation-type keywords to reach the target audience.
  5. The organization can position itself by building credibility through online content.

The information on Reading Rocket’s website is easy to comprehend and created for the target audience. However, the imagery used children’s photos to convey who they ultimately want to reach -kids. Their content reinforces the organization’s message of using evidence-based strategies to help children learn to read better. The content gives clear blog titles to navigate people to important content. One particular blog post is titled “Why some kids struggle to read” which is more likely to show in a search engine for keywords “Why is my child struggling to read”. The blog post topic is similar to the keywords that a parent would probably use in a search engine.

So I could develop a content marketing strategy the nonprofit that includes a series of blog posts on different reasons why children struggle to read,helpful downloadable guides for parents, and online books to improve reading. This can be part of the nonprofit’s content marketing strategy. The organization does not have to build the content at one time but can create the topics on a scheduled basis.

Keyword research can help the nonprofit build a content marketing strategy to reach people who need its help. Content is about letting the world know about the expertise of the nonprofit. Keyword research is a big part of Search Engine Optimization. For the nonprofit to be found, it has to have content that can be crawled and indexed by search bots (not only Google bots, but Bing, Duck-Duck-Go, and other search engines).

Delivering factual and helpful content also builds trust between the nonprofit and the people who visit the website. People want to trust nonprofits because they serve the “public” interest (whether it’s true or not). Back to our example of the reading literacy nonprofit. If the nonprofit has access to leading research and tools that have been proven to increase the reading skills of kids between 6-10, then it has a trusted tool that can be showcased and delivered to its target audience.

Don’t just think of content marketing as a blog post. You can also produce keyword-focused videos, podcasts, downloadable books, and a ton of other content.

Google’s ranking systems aim to reward original, high-quality content that demonstrates qualities of what it calls E-E-A-T: expertise, experience, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness.

Keywords To Build User Base & Increase Donors

A lot of people start nonprofits thinking that once they incorporate and get their 501(c)(3) that donations will start to pour in because they have the best programs and services. Unfortunately, a lot of founders find it to be the complete opposite. Instead, the nonprofit could struggle for years to gain a stable donor base.

Over time, many nonprofits begin to face dwindling donor support, and an inability to tap new donors, and find financial stability. I am not a fundraiser, I cannot tell you how to fundraise. What I can tell you is how to reach people through organic search and how to build an audience over time. Keyword research can assist a nonprofit with reaching its audience through organic search or paid advertising. Once you have an audience, that means you have gained attention. But it will be up to the content of the website and the nonprofit to keep the person’s attention by getting the user to continuously come back to the website.

So instead of thinking about keyword research for the nonprofit as finding donors, think of it as finding an audience of people who can champion your organization. If the nonprofit has the best content [because people found you through organic search and the content is keyword-focused and search engine optimized], then people are more likely to refer others to the nonprofit’s website through social media recommendations, which is a form of word of mouth. When people are sharing the nonprofit’s content, it signals that the content is of the highest quality to the user.

Building an engaged audience is the first step to building your donor database. It’s probably one of the areas nonprofits try to skip, but in reality, should be the first step of launching the nonprofit. Yes, donations and fundraising are required to maintain tax-exempt status with the IRS, but it does not have to be the only method of financial stability for nonprofits.

Keyword Research Tools For Nonprofits

Here is a list of keyword research tools for nonprofits. Some of these tools require a subscription, others have limited access. Do your research into which tools are best for your nonprofit to use. The free ones (Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster tools) are a must. Use the right keyword tool for the right platform. Keyword research requires extensive data. Most free plans are not enough to achieve the scope of data required to create a content-focused keyword marketing strategy.

  1. Google Trends is free and very basic. For nonprofits, it should be the first step to find keywords and explore topics related to the organization. Once you have a basic list of keywords, then you can plug topics and keywords into other tools below.
  2. Google Ads Keyword Planner Tool (if you have a Google Ad Grant Account or paid account). You just need an active Google Ads account to use the keyword planner tool. It’s great if you need to do keyword research for Google Ads.
  3. aHrefs is a competitive analysis tool, a keyword research tool, and can do a deeper analysis of keywords than Google Keyword Planner tool. It’s a paid subscription starting at $99 per month ($1200 yearly). Ahrefs is an excellent tool for keyword research for SEO.
  4. Google Search Console is free and can tell the nonprofit which keywords rank in organic search. Determine if any of the keywords match the nonprofit marketing objectives and which content can be search engine optimized to reach your audience.
  5. Bing Webmaster tools are free. Again it can tell you what your nonprofit currently ranks for in Bing organic search. Determine if any of the keywords match the nonprofit marketing objectives and which content can be search engine optimized to reach your audience.
  6. is a very old tool that has been around for years. It’s probably one of the first full-suite SEO tools on the market. But I found that it’s not as good as aHrefs or SEMRush. It starts at $99 per month if paid monthly or $79 per month if paid yearly. They may still have a free account with very limited access.
  7. SEMRush is similar to aHrefs but has a heavy focus on content marketing. It is a writing assistant to help you write content. I don’t use SEMRush content writing tools. Instead, I use Grammarly and other AI-assisted tools to write content. SEMRush does have a free plan with very limited access.
  8. ChatGTP can assist a nonprofit with finding similar keywords that users may use. But use this tool with caution. ChatGTP has been know to get things wrong. You can take a list of keywords and ask ChatGTP to give similar long-tail keywords. Google Bard is another AI tool, however, I have found that Bard has been incorrect a ton. Use AI-assisted tools with caution. AI tools can also create meta descriptions, title tags, and content snippets to assist with creating content. Always fact-check AI-generated content.
  9. If the nonprofit plans to do Youtube videos, then a keyword tool such as TubeBuddy may be idle for the organization. Keyword stats are just for video marketing.
  10. is another one that has both a free and paid plan. The free plan is very limited.


This is just the start of the journey into keyword research. Other topics to explore include keyword clustering, content optimization, and finally determining which keywords to use for SEO. The goal of keyword research is to unlock the power of search engine optimization and its unparalleled ability to bolster your online success for nonprofits.

By skillfully integrating relevant keywords into your content, a nonprofit has the potential to connect with your target audience on a deeper level and amplify its reach across the digital landscape. Remember, the essence of keyword optimization lies not only in the technical implementation but also in crafting valuable, engaging, and meaningful content that resonates with your audience. Embrace these insights, continually refine your approach, and watch your online presence flourish with enhanced visibility, increased organic traffic, and a thriving digital community that values your brand’s unique offerings. Let the magic of keywords pave the way to sustained success, ensuring your content reigns supreme in the ever-evolving digital ecosystem.

Jodie provides auditing, restructuring and building PPC campaigns for nonprofits. She focuses on driving awareness to content, events, and important areas of your nonprofit organization's website. In her spare time, she loves baking awesome cookies, reading, and learning new tech topics! What question is she pondering at the moment: Are Hexa- chocolate (5 types of chocolate) chip chunk cookies, too decadent?