If you’re a non-profit organization involved in research (or have access to research labs), realize that you might have a hot commodity for a live auction item sitting under your nose.
Tours of research labs – or somehow giving silent auction display ideas guests the chance to participate in a research excursion – has a panache that some find appealing. For instance, many years ago my family was fascinated with a behind-the-scenes tour (although probably not “too” behind-the-scenes, considering the location) of the Los Alamos National Lab. The tour was years ago, and they still enjoy talking about it!
One of our clients is an organization founded by a scientist. The non-profit has researched the same pod of dolphins for 25 years, studying these creatures in their natural habitat in order to better understand them. As part of their research, the scientists are out at-sea in the Caribbean ~90 consecutive days each year.
One of the items offered in the group’s auction is the opportunity to live on-board the ship for 10-days and participate in the research. For six days, the winning bidder helps with various research projects. The final four days are devoted to relaxing activities like snorkeling and island-hopping. As the trip occurs during lobster season, everyone on-board enjoys yummy meals. The trip has sold well; selling in the 5-figures for the past two years.
The group also offers a “lunch cruise” on its research vessel. Five guests enjoy a leisurely lunch onboard while sailing around the intercoastal waterways and listening to a scientist talk about the latest in dolphin research. That’s another good use of the ship: Getting people on the craft and allowing them to “see” what happens …. it helps to sell the organization’s mission.
In Washington, DC, the Smithsonian Institution has a number of lesser-known research facilities that make for unusual auction donations.
The Feather Identification Lab (jokingly called “CSI for Birds”) of The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is one such facility. This group analyzes feathers and body material found after “bird-strikes,” the term used when birds collide with aircraft. When US Airways Flight 1549 landed in the Hudson River on January 15, 2009, it was the Feather Identification Lab which identified the birds as a flock of Canada Geese.
The Osteology Lab of the Smithsonian Institution is another popular “research” auction item. The most exciting part of the tour is often said to be watching the Dermistid beetle colony. The colony is used to prepare bone specimens. Dead mammals and birds go into the tank, and the beetles swarm over the specimen, naturally cleaning the bones of all flesh. This allows the specimen to be ‘skeletized.’ Certainly neither of these labs are common-place to most guests attending your auction.
If you have access to a research lab, consider how you might mold it into an auction item. Someone in your audience is likely to find the behind-the-scenes access interesting, and allowing guests an up-close-and-personal tour enables you to more personally share with them the mission of your organization. It’s a win-win situation!