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The mission: To protect and create awareness of the nation’s cultural, historical, and scientific heritage and to conduct pioneering research.
Why it stands out: Yes, the Smithsonian is the place to take your kids to see Kermit the Frog, triceratops bones, and the Wright Brothers’ airplane. But the world’s largest museum and research complex is more than a collection of artifacts. Each year, it holds cultural celebrations and creates traveling exhibitions on a huge range of topics (recent ones include space exploration and skateboarding in Native American culture). The organization, which receives some federal money but is not a government agency, also creates online curriculums, classroom activities, and other educational resources that teachers can use free of charge.
Your money at work: The Smithsonian says donations help keep museum admission free of charge, but it will not release specific donation breakdowns.