Smithsonian Castle

Philanthropy at the Smithsonian

James Smithson, the founding donor of the Smithsonian, was an Englishman and a man of science. He found his calling as a chemist and delighted in rigorous research and discovery.

Smithson never visited the United States but admired its founding principles of equality and freedom. He believed this young democracy offered the best hope for the progress of humanity. Upon his death, he bequeathed his estate to the fledgling nation to establish the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.”

When the institution was established in 1846—nearly a decade after Smithson’s gift—it relied solely on the Smithson endowment. As the Smithsonian grew, Congress recognized it as an essential service to the nation—an institution built to document, reflect and advance the American story. Smithson’s gift inspired a then-unprecedented public-private partnership with Congress, the American people and donors dedicated to new knowledge and ideas. It also laid the foundations for a rich history of giving to expand and enhance the Smithsonian’s offerings. 

Today, federal funds make up about 61% of the institution’s annual budget. Congressional dollars help conserve national collections, sustain basic research, provide for infrastructure and administrative services to operate, maintain and protect Smithsonian museums and research centers.

Private funds amplify the impact of Congressional support. A staff of more than 200 across the 19 museums, research centers and the National Zoo raise more than $220 million every year from individuals, corporations, foundations and others. In fiscal year 2019, individual donors made up 60% private giving—people power our ability to fund innovative research projects, landmark exhibitions and more.

Donors support the Smithsonian’s efforts to reach diverse communities, strengthen educational programming, endow new positions and ensure that our collections represent the complete American experience. The founding of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in 2016 was driven by private and corporate philanthropy—the culmination of nearly a century of efforts to recognize the contributions of African Americans to American history.

In a rapidly changing world, private philanthropy will help the Smithsonian innovate and evolve, strengthening digital programming, finding new ways to confront issues that are reshaping American society, and preparing future generations with the knowledge and context they need to succeed.

There are many ways to give to the Smithsonian. Direct giving, online giving, membership, gift planning, and foundation and corporate sponsorships provide unrestricted funds which go toward the greatest need across the Smithsonian.

You can also give directly to specific museums, research centers, projects and/or initiatives at the Smithsonian.

As a nation, we are still striving to live up to the founding principles James Smithson so admired. The Smithsonian matters more than ever as a force for civic engagement in America that reaches people where they are. Join generations of donors that have made the Smithsonian what it is today, and will help us educate, sustain and serve the nation as only the Smithsonian can.

Funds Raised by Source
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Fiscal Year 2019

Funds Raised by Purpose
Fiscal Year 2019