It’s now a textbook fundraising recipe. Grassroots energy mixed with Facebook hype. Sprinkle some “We can do it!” on a simple, hopeful message. Recruit glamorous types. Stage a large-scale event with Corinthian columns in the backdrop. Blare the Black Eyed Peas and let your top dog bask. You’ve just raised six figures with a dog and pony fashion show.

(A model walks her dog down the runway. Photo: Daniel Swartz /

Fashion for Paws, the Washington Humane Society’s fashion show fundraiser that raised nearly $500,000 on Saturday at the National Building Museum­­, followed this formula religiously, but with the added, irresistible bonus of furry canines in tutus. The scurrying. The slobber. It made the pen-to-check hand motion so much easier.

Tara de Nicolas founded the fundraiser five years ago, translating a successful political fundraising formula into a high-dollar event on Washington’s philanthropy circuit.

Triangulation. Competition. Awww-inducing photo-ops.

Add sweater-clad Pomeranians and you’ve got a black tie-winning model for success. The mood is less “ladies who lunch” and more “Sí, se puede!” No jazz and couture. Just European house music.

(Tara de Nicolas speaks to media at Fashion for Paws. Photo: Daniel Swartz /

“Everything is donated, and we couldn’t do anything without our volunteers,” said de Nicolas. “The key to our success is that good people attract good people. It just keeps growing.”

It’s a masterful strategy, a philanthropic pyramid scheme. Every year, the charity adds more models that in turn, ask friends and acquaintances to donate to their personal fundraising pages on the Washington Humane Society website. Then, they compete for the glory. The competition for top fundraiser among the models plays out publicly for the virtual world to see.

“It’s really just a friendly competition,” de Nicolas said.

But the message of helping the Humane Society makes it hard to resist donating.

(A model carries a dog at Fashion for Paws. photo: Daniel Swartz /

“In some ways, the message mirrors what President Obama did so well: it really appeals universally to everyone,” said Carlos Alvarez-Aranyos, a communications consultant who modeled alongside his dog Alfie, whom he rescued from New Orleans three months before Hurricane Katrina. “I fundraised across the world [for Fashion for Paws], and the message appeals to people in Washington the same way it does in California or Monaco: You want to do right by your dog.”

And that’s why the growing crowd, estimated at over 1500, comes barking back every year. Not for the garments or the men and women modeling them, but for the well-groomed canines wearing tulle and cufflinks. Want to fundraise in Washington? You know what to get.