Smithsonian Concludes Capital Campaign With $1.88 Billion in Private Support

More Than 535,000 Donors Contributed to the Campaign, Supporting Exhibitions, Outreach, Research and Public Spaces
February 6, 2018
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The Smithsonian announced today that it successfully concluded its comprehensive campaign, raising $1.88 billion against its goal of $1.5 billion. It is the largest amount ever raised in a fundraising campaign by a cultural organization.

The Smithsonian Campaign encompassed all 19 museums, the National Zoo, nine research centers and educational units. Campaign fundraising priorities emphasized new and renovated buildings and spaces, education and outreach initiatives, endowment support, scientific research around the globe, and programs and exhibitions.

More than 535,000 donors contributed to the campaign, including gifts from foundations, corporations and individuals from every state and 107 countries. Approximately 93 percent of donors made gifts of $100 or less. The largest gift to the campaign, more than $50 million, came from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in support of education programs, scholarly initiatives and the creation of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The Smithsonian is a public-private partnership between the U.S. federal government and generous donors and members. Approximately 60 percent of the Institution’s annual operating budget is funded through federal appropriations. Philanthropic gifts and business revenues generate the remainder.

The campaign was announced in October 2014 with the stated aim of raising $1.5 billion by Dec. 31, 2017. The campaign surpassed its goal in October 2016.

The campaign was initiated by former Secretary Wayne Clough and guided to its successful conclusion by Secretary David Skorton, who was appointed in 2014. It was overseen by four volunteer co-chairs of the Smithsonian Campaign’s steering committee: David M. Rubenstein, chair of the Smithsonian Board of Regents; Barbara Barrett, a member of the Board of Regents; Sakurako Fisher, a current member and former chair of the Smithsonian National Board; and Alan Spoon, Regent Emeritus.

“On behalf of the Board of Regents and my fellow Campaign co-chairs, I want to thank the more than half-million people who have shown their support for the unique value of the Smithsonian’s collections and the extraordinary imagination of its scholars,” Rubenstein said.

“The historic success of the Smithsonian Campaign demonstrates what’s possible when each of the Smithsonian’s museums, research centers and education programs come together as one and, fueled by the generosity of our community, aspire to make an even greater impact on our nation and the world,” Skorton said.

The spaces, programs and initiatives made possible by gifts to the Smithsonian Campaign are wide-ranging. Highlights of the campaign’s impact are below. Additional stories of the campaign can be found at

Buildings, Galleries and Public Spaces

Smithsonian-wide, more than 750,000 square feet of new or renovated galleries and public spaces at 11 museums and the National Zoo opened thanks to gifts to the Smithsonian Campaign.

One of the most significant milestones of the campaign was the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in 2016. In addition to $270 million in federal funding, the museum raised more than $400 million in private funds, including 142 gifts of $1 million or more.

Other new or renovated galleries and public spaces made possible by gifts from generous donors include the Renwick Gallery, which reopened to great acclaim in 2015; the National Museum of American History’s west wing, which opened in phases concluding this year; the National Air and Space Museum’s Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall; the William H. Gross Stamp Gallery at the National Postal Museum; and the recently renovated “America’s Presidents” exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. The National Museum of Natural History will reopen its renovated David H. Koch Fossil Hall in 2019, and the National Zoo will open its “Experience Migration” exhibition at the Bird House in 2021.

Education Spaces and Programs

The Smithsonian serves 6.3 million people each year through education programs in its museums and beyond. Gifts to the Smithsonian Campaign led to the creation of eight new education centers at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, National Museum of American History, National Museum of the American Indian, National Museum of Natural History, National Postal Museum and Smithsonian American Art Museum.

A gift of endowment from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation supports the Youth Access Grants program, enabling Smithsonian educators to experiment with new digital strategies for outreach, engage in collaborations and, through outcome-based evaluation, assess the impact of their programs. It also supports development of standards-based strategies for reaching students with differing access to technology and broadens reach to educators and students in under-resourced communities.

Technology and Digital Outreach

Campaign gifts have enabled the Smithsonian to apply several digitization innovations across the Institution. The Smithsonian has digitized more than 3 million objects in its collection, including the entire collection of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. The Smithsonian Learning Lab, launched in 2016, makes nearly 2 million multimedia educational resources available to teachers and learners of all ages.

Other Smithsonian objects digitized thanks to gifts to the Smithsonian Campaign include first-time 3-D scans of the Apollo 11 spacecraft, Spirit of St. Louis and the space shuttle Discovery at the National Air and Space Museum.

Support for Endowment

Overall, $412 million in gifts went toward endowment support for programs and positions.  Gifts to the campaign resulted in the endowment of 68 positions Institution-wide, including six directors, 17 curators and 45 fellows.

Scientific Breakthroughs

Gifts to the campaign have advanced the National Zoo and Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s ability to save species such as cheetahs and giant pandas. Smithsonian conservation biologists’ pioneering work on giant panda research and reproductive health science contributed to a conservation milestone: In 2016, the giant panda was downgraded from “endangered” to “vulnerable” on the global list of species at risk of extinction.

During the Smithsonian Campaign, several donors enabled a pioneering collaboration between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and other organizations in the use of the Event Horizon Telescope, which aims to capture the first image of a black hole.

National Outreach

In addition to visiting Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C., and New York City, millions of people visit Smithsonian Affiliate museums around the country each year, and about 4.5 million people visit Smithsonian traveling exhibitions. Gifts to the Smithsonian Campaign supported “Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission,” commemorating the first lunar landing in 1969. The Apollo 11 command module Columbia is traveling to four American cities through 2019.

The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center received the largest gift in its history in the form of a grant from the Ford Foundation, which funded pop-up “Culture Lab” exhibitions in Washington, D.C., New York City and Honolulu.

Gifts to the campaign have enabled the Smithsonian Latino Center to bring education programs to Latino youth around the nation, such as the Young Ambassadors Program, which helps Latino high school seniors build leadership skills in the arts, sciences and humanities, and the ¡Descubra! Meet the Science Expert program, promoting interactive science days across the country and offering kids the chance to interact with Latino scientists in hands-on STEM activities.

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Linda St. Thomas