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Brian Young had big plans for his church's IT strategy. But his vision suffered a serious setback this summer after Google Inc. altered its nonprofit program to prohibit all churches and religious organizations from participating.

For years, the search and software giant individually offered some of its products—including its office software and popular Gmail—for free or discounted use to qualifying nonprofits. Eligibility requirements varied by product, but churches and faith-based groups were welcome to use some.

All of that changed in mid-March when the company launched "Google for Nonprofits." The new initiative united a robust set of Google's tools into one program, but it also came with new guidelines that excluded numerous entities, including schools, political thinktanks, churches, proselytizing groups, and any organization that considers religion or sexual orientation in hiring decisions.

The shift caught church leaders like Young by surprise. As the IT director for Living Hope Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky, Young spent two months researching Google for Nonprofits before applying on July 12. A rejection e-mail arrived the next day.

Young had originally 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 expected the 3,000-member church would also use Google AdWords (up to $10,000 worth) included in the program.

"There were so many things for nonprofits that were going to benefit us," said Young. "We just wanted to use them."

Disappointed by the ...

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August 2011

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