You know that you can search with Google, but Google offers far more than a search engine. Here are three tools from Google that your grassroots group can use to keep you in the know:
What are people saying about your issue? What are people on the web writing about you? Google's robots are crawling the web 24 hours a day (or possibly more) and indexing and ranking all the content on the web. By setting up a Google Alert, you can have Google send you an email when a new news story or web page is discovered on words you tell it to search for.
You can use your Google Alerts to keep track of the public dialog on your issue, or to be one of the first to know about breaking news. A Google Alert on your group's name will let you know who is linking to you and writing about your organization on the web.
You can request alerts about blogs, alerts about news websites or more general websites, and have them delivered as-it-happens or in a daily digest. Note: the general "web" alerts may find content that is not actually new -- remember to always check the date that content was posted before assuming that it's new.
You need a Google account (but that doesn't mean you have to have Gmail). Here's a great tutorial from Wild Apricot on how to get started with Google Alerts.
For people concerned about privacy, the Google Analytics terms of service specifically prohibits you from using it to track individual users on your website. It is for tracking trends, not stalking people.
Here is an excellent 15-minute screencast on Google Analytics for nonprofits from Beth's Blog. And for those of you who already use Google Analytics and want to start using it even better, check out this short article from Avinash Kaushik on some essentials of Google Analytics.
Google's real bread-and-butter is selling advertising that drives traffic to relevant websites. They have an extensive advertising business, but unfortunately, many social change groups don't have advertising budgets. Luckily, Google has developed Google Grants, where groups can apply for free text ads to drive traffic to your website.
The application form is short, but does require some knowledge of how AdWords (Google's advertising program) works. Once you submit the applications, it takes four to six months for them to reply, so plan to apply well in advance of when you would make use of the grant. Learn more about Google Grants from Network for Good's The Joys of Google Grants.
This is just a slice of the wide array of tools that Google offers for nonprofits, but these three are easy to learn and high-yield tools to start with.
When you're ready for more, (Want to use Google Earth? Already using YouTube but unsure of how to market your videos?) consider checking out Google's nonprofits tools section. These are all tools that you can learn to use that will help you spread the good word about your issue and your work.