Magazine sales are reliable annual fundraisers because they can depend on subscription renewals and because students can direct their out-of-town family and friends to order online. And since magazines are mailed directly to patrons, parent groups don’t have to worry about distributing the products they sell.

This fundraiser works very simply. Usually held in the fall over two or three weeks, a magazine sale offers new subscriptions and renewals from a brochure of titles. Renewals are generated by a customer list given to returning students. The kickoff includes an assembly at which the sales representative excites kids by highlighting prizes they can win for meeting certain goals. Sales are submitted and prizes often are awarded weekly, culminating in grand prizes for total sales.

Keys to Success

Magazine sales have an advantage over many fundraisers in that you’re selling a product that people already buy. Most companies offer a long list of the most popular magazine titles, so customers can simply renew a subscription that they already receive. And the rates tend to be the same as or lower than standard subscription rates. That’s a nice counter to parent complaints about fundraising products that seem overpriced or are available for less in stores. Be sure to emphasize this aspect of your magazine fundraiser—good products, good prices, plus the school gets a healthy return.

Magazine fundraisers also make online purchasing easy. Distant family and friends can order online, and the magazines are delivered to them directly. This can significantly increase your potential customer base. Many product fundraisers allow online ordering, but you are responsible for delivery.

Planning for fall magazine sales begins in the spring or summer, when the parent group meets with the sales rep. If your group has done a magazine sale already, this is also the time when reminder notices go out to previous customers to “save” their subscription renewals for your fundraiser.

Some parent groups launch their sales at the start of school to get a jump on other area schools competing for customers. Others prefer to wait until later in the fall, when families have settled into their routines. Whatever time you choose for your magazine sale, make sure it is held at the same time each year—this is especially important for capturing annual subscription renewals.

The kickoff assembly’s success depends on the personality of the sales rep and the interest generated by the prize list. At separate assemblies for Logan-Rogersville Primary and Upper Elementary Schools in Rogersville, Mo., the rep dresses up as “Mr. Money,” a clown who pulls a long chain of dollar bills out of his pocket.

The prizes themselves attract the most attention. At St. Christopher School in Vandalia, Ohio, students who sold at least 50 subscriptions got an iPod or a stereo to connect to an iPod.

Activities can encourage children, too. At Liberty Middle School in Ashland, Va., the PTA split the cost of a limousine ride with the magazine sales rep. Students who sold at least 20 items (subscriptions plus other merchandise) got a limo ride to lunch at Pizza Hut. Those who sold at least 30 items got to bring a friend.

The Logan-Rogersville PTA holds a party after the sale where each grade plays games like the limbo or a bungee run. It takes two days for everybody to attend—and that means everybody, even those who didn’t sell anything. “The PTA takes a cut in profits because of that, but we’d rather it be fun for all the kids,” says magazine sales chairwoman Shannon Kennedy. On the other hand, says Rene Ulloa, a Richmond, Va.-based regional manager for Great American Opportunities, including everybody can bring complaints from families that sold subscriptions. Ulloa prefers setting the minimum participation level low enough—such as four subscriptions—that all students who put forth some effort can take part.

Dos and Don’ts

Don’t try to sell new magazine subscriptions first. Instead, tell students to first ask potential customers if they have any magazines in their home, advises J.C. Smith, general manager for American Publishers. Then ask if they would like to renew subscriptions for those magazines through the school. “This can be confusing for kids,” Smith admits. “But if you go up to customers and say ‘Would you like to buy some magazines?’ they’ll think, I have five or six and don’t need any more.”

Do emphasize to customers that this fundraiser doesn’t cost anything extra. “The average household subscribes to five magazines,” Smith says. “The purpose of magazine fundraising is to encourage all of those families to simply redirect their magazine subscriptions through the school and PTO to benefit kids. It’s part of the selling strategy, especially in today’s economy.”

Do try a magazine sale even if another local school is doing one. Magazine fundraising companies represent just 3 percent of the total market for magazine sales, according to Smith. “That means 97 percent of families are renewing their magazines through sources other than schools,” he says. “We know there’s enough market out there for elementary schools and that their participation will not have a negative effect on [existing] middle school campaigns.”

Do emphasize literacy. Ask your sales rep for a list of age-appropriate children’s magazines to encourage kids to read. Parents are likely to support this aspect of your fundraiser.

Top 5 Ways To Increase Profits

  1. Add merchandise. Additional items will increase the size of individual orders and attract customers not interested in magazines. For example, along with subscriptions, the Liberty Middle School PTA sold jewelry and chocolate. Likewise, some companies now offer magazine subscriptions as an option in catalog sales.

  2. Encourage sales to community businesses. While children are cautioned not to sell door-to-door, there are ways to broaden the customer base of family, neighbors, and parents’ coworkers. One approach is to seek out local business contacts. “We urge children to go to their doctor’s and dentist’s offices, to their hairdresser, places they frequent that buy a lot of magazines,” says Melanie McNett, PTA president at Robert Gray Middle School in Portland, Ore. Ask at car dealerships, too—anywhere that has a waiting room.

  3. Involve the teachers. The Logan-Rogersville PTA asked teachers from the grade levels with the highest sales to face off by trying to throw a ball into baskets perched on their own heads. The champ won $100 for his or her classroom.

  4. Extend the sale. A three-day extension can re-energize a sale, Ulloa says. “Throw in extra incentives and hold a drawing. Everyone who brings in an additional order gets in the drawing, and for every order they get an extra chance.”

  5. Encourage year-round online sales. There’s been a “quantum leap” in Internet orders in the past several years, Smith says. As a result, companies are placing more emphasis on this important aspect of fundraising. But most online sales take place only during the few weeks set aside for the sale, in part because orders that come in at other times are not usually credited. Ask your rep to set it up so that specific children receive credit for online orders that come in after the end of your regular sales campaign.

FAQs

How much can we make on a magazine sale?
Expect the company you’re working with to take about 60 percent of the total sales. Your sales representative may provide the funds for prizes and other incentives, though it’s more likely that the cost will be shared. Logan-Rogersville Primary and Upper Elementary schools, which have a combined student body of 1,000, made a profit of about $15,000 on their most recent magazine sale. St. Christopher School, with 400 students, netted about $17,000. Liberty Middle School, with 1,100 students, cleared $9,000 from a magazine sale that also included jewelry and chocolate.

How many volunteers are needed?
The majority of manpower is needed on the weekly order collection days. Have at least a dozen parents there to count and verify the submitted orders, if possible.

How can we make this fundraiser simpler?
Talk to your representative about your needs. That’s how Liberty Middle School got all merchandise and prizes sent directly to students and customers, saving the PTA from having to distribute everything. It’s also how St. Christopher School got a simplified catalog that solved the problem of multiple order codes for the same magazine.

New and Trendy

Many companies are offering “green” options for magazine sales. American Publishers, for instance, plants a tree in a national forest in the school’s name for each family that purchases or renews at least three magazine subscriptions.

QSP, which offers magazine sales as well as gift and food fundraisers, is conducting a test program with the Girl Scouts to print magazine marketing materials on recycled paper with inks that aren’t harmful to the environment. And this fall, they’ll offer the option of digital subscriptions for some magazines. “The digital publishing industry is small,” says Keira Krausz, QSP’s vice president of marketing, “but many magazines have started to do digital versions.”

For customers who prefer more traditional print subscriptions, you may want to inform them about recycling options for their magazines, which can be used to make newsprint, tissue, and paper.