“Google for Nonprofits” Will Not Offer Grants to Churches—Because of Religious Content and Prosyletizing

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August 25, 2011; Source: Christianity Today | Google for Nonprofits’ webpage, in big and bold print, beckons, “You’re changing the world. We want to help.”

The tech behemoth invites nonprofits to apply for its program that grants to selected organizations products and resources that can help any nonprofit “expand its impact.” Google offers free or discounted versions of its apps, free advertising, premium branding and increased uploads on YouTube, and free licensing for mapping technologies. This is a great opportunity for nonprofits that would otherwise not have the resources to invest in IT.

Some organizations, however, are not eligible for this largesse. Google precludes communities or groups that require “membership and/or provid[e] benefit solely to members;” those that have “religious content or proselytizing on their websites as well as organizations that use religion or sexual orientation as factors in hiring or populations served;” and those that serve “a primarily political function such as lobbying, think tanks and special interests.” Schools, childcare centers, academic institutions, and universities are also barred unless an organization’s sole purpose is to serve a disadvantaged community. Finally, places or institutions of worship need not apply.

The restrictions come as bad news to purveyors of the Good News.

Christianity Today reports that Brian Young, IT director for Living Hope Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky, had high hopes when he applied for Google support. Apparently Google had once welcomed congregations but tightened its restrictions over the summer.

Young had envisioned how he would utilize Google’s products and services to proselytize. He had planned to unify 50 paid staff members and 270 volunteers with customized Gmail and office software, distribute video of Sunday services through a premium YouTube channel, beam live feeds of faraway missionaries using Google Video, and map locations of service projects and missionaries with Google Earth. He had hoped to promote the 3,000-member church on Google and its advertising network. But Google sent him a rejection letter.

“There were so many things for nonprofits that were going to benefit us,” Young told Christianity Today. “We just wanted to use them.”

Lloyd Mayer, a Notre Dame Law School professor, points out that Google’s restrictions come as no surprise since corporations often exclude faith-based groups from their philanthropic programs. Mayer believes that Google is “trying to avoid anything that would reflect negatively on them.” That includes polarizing groups that might alienate most of its customers. Tim Postuma, council chairman of a 418-member church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, expressed his disappointment with Google, saying the company is “missing the mark here.”

Perhaps Postuma should not have cast that stone. Aren’t churches the first ones to exclude those who disagree or challenge their beliefs and those with lifestyles they judge sinful? In contrast, Google’s restrictions reflect the corporation’s desire to employ its technology for the greater good. And that includes disadvantaged populations and those that are discriminated against by exclusionary groups such as some faith-based organizations.Erwin de Leon

  • Daniel Jones

    Umm…No actually, churches are not the first ones to exclude those who disagree or challenge their beliefs. Churches and those people of the church who are really living their faiths and beliefs are the first ones to embrace the lost and broken, no matter what their lifestyles. As a staff member of a Christian faith-based homeless shelter, we don’t ask about the background of a hungry or homeless person, we do as we are commanded by our faith to offer them food and hospitality. It isn’t between us-and-them…it’s between us and God. I would hope you would re-think the thinly veiled hostility in your last paragraph which is aimed at “some churches” you deem exclusionary. Most are not – they are VERY inclusive and embracing. If you haven’t found that invitation yet, I pray that you do someday. And for the record, the faith-based community can do it’s work just fine without Google. We have a higher power on our side.

  • Marc Baizman

    This has been the case for some time. In fact, Judi Sohn was the first to publicly call Google out for this on her blog a month ago: http://judisohn.com/2011/07/30/google-now-denies-program-to-nonprofits-they-used-to-serve/

    To quote Judi, “…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

  • Sam Greenlee

    I understand not extending the AdWords credits, but cutting religious profits off across the board makes little sense. In case you are interested, there is a petition requesting that Google renew the program for religious institutions (except for the AdWords credits). http://ow.ly/6fRjd

  • Tom King

    If they are concerned about proselytizing, then what about the barrage of fliers I get from Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation and Greenpeace urging me to support wildlife conservation and to sign on the the fight against global warming? They ask me to believe in a cause, to donate money to that cause and to volunteer time to that cause. How is that different from what a church does? And boy howdy do those guys know how to exclude, denigrate and ridicule those who disagree with their beliefs. Don’t believe that? Challenge their beliefs on global warming and see if you don’t get jumped on with both feet. Bigotry doesn’t just happen in snake-handling Pentecostal churches in Kentucky, I’m here to tell you. Seems what’s sauce for the goose ought to be sauce for the gander. – Tom

  • Judi Sohn

    How sad that the author of this article appears to believe that religious organizations exist to proselytize and that is the sole reason Google now excludes houses of worship from their programs. I can’t speak for churches, but I can tell you that modern Jews do not proselytize and we strongly believe in a lifestyle of tikkun olam (“heal the world”) that does not exclude in any way based on religious beliefs.

    That is beside the point. The truth is that the author has no idea why Google is now excluding religious organizations because Google has said nothing on the matter that I’ve ever read. That is what is most frustrating. The silence. We are all just guessing as to the reason. The policy was changed in March (not over the summer as the article states) as part of the new Google for Nonprofits consolidation without any warning or explanation.

    I am so incredibly grateful to Google for the products and services that have been donated to the nonprofits in which I am involved. All I ask is that their policies are applied fairly and consistently.

  • Antonio Pasolini

    Good on Google. Faith groups work to promote their faith, not charity. If they do, they have an agenda behind it.

  • E W

    Agreed, Antonio. There are faith groups doing good work, but there are many who push their faith on vulnerable people who need help, not preaching.

  • RobertMacy

    Wow! I agree with Judi that this is very sad. I work for a hospital hospitality house that is faith-based but more inclusive, non-discriminatory, and diverse in it’s programs, practices, and services than many many non-faith based organizations in our city. This needs to be reviewed. It excludes a lot of great organizations like the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, etc.

  • RobertMacy

    Antonio, I disagree. Not all ‘faith groups’ proselytize. Many feel as though the work that they do to serve people or help others, what you called ‘charity’, is expression enough of their faith.

  • Chris Hallawood

    Google has GOD on its side too…

  • Heather Iliff

    All funders have guidelines and priorities – things they fund and things they don’t fund. I am having a difficult time understanding why this is news at all.

    Also note that churches are different than faith-based nonprofits. Churches don’t need to file the IRS form 990 and are not accountable to the public. Their donors walk in the door every Sunday, and they don’t have as much red tape to comply with when they run programs. Faith-based nonprofits, such as Catholic Charities, Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Services, etc., DO file tax returns and have to follow all the same rules as other nonprofits.

  • John_Lombard


    Thank you for the selective memory there. How about this:

    If a homosexual community group wanted to use your church for meetings, would your church agree to let them use it?

    If pro-choice groups wanted to put advertisements about their services in your church’s bulletins, would they agree?

    If a Muslim wanted to come and preach from your pulpit, and tell your congregation about the message of Allah, would they welcome him?

    “churches are not the first ones to exclude those who disagree or challenge their beliefs”?

    Think again.

  • Steve_819


    Your scenarios are unrealistic. My church doesn’t lend out their facilities to community groups, sell advertisements in their bulletins, or let unsolicited speakers come and preach from the pulpit.

    A church’s main purpose is to offer a weekly message on the word of God to those who want to listen, provide a place where people can worship God and grow in their faith, and serve their community for the glory of Jesus Christ.

    Anyone who wants to take part in that is welcome. You don’t even need to be a Christian…come as you are. When we go out into the community to serve, we don’t ask anyone about their sexual preference or thoughts on Row v. Wade.

    If churches excluded people who sin, they would be empty.