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Doggone? Washington Humane Society taking Fashion for Paws gala ‘in a different direction’

One of D.C.’s biggest — and cutest — fundraisers is about to be downsized.

Fashion for Paws, which combines designer clothing and dogs on the runway, has been the Washington Humane Society’s biggest moneymaker. This week, though, event founder Tara de Nicolas surprised many socialites with the news she’s leaving the job next Monday. WHS, she said in her announcement, “will be taking over F4P and taking it in a different direction. I was not involved in the decision-making process for this new direction.”

In 2007, de Nicolas, then the society’s marketing and PR person, launched a fashion show for young professionals and grew it into one of Washington’s biggest parties — this year’s bash at the National Building Museum had 1,700 guests. The party featured donors who raised at least $5,000 each to parade down the runway with their pets — yes, often in matching outfits — plus drinks, dancing and “pupcakes” for all. In 2012, the fashion show and related F4P parties brought in $730,000 for WHS.

So what happened? De Nicolas, 33, personally fueled the party’s growth by hitting up friends and sponsors for money and donations — $3 million over the years.

But, like any fundraiser, you can only ask so many times before donor fatigue sets in. In May, when she graduated with a business degree from Georgetown, de Nicolas decided it was time to move on and let a new team take the reins. “I think it will be smaller — and sustainable,” she told us.

“It’s like any event in this town: I think we’ve hit maximum size,” said WHS chief development officer Julie Conway. Some donors thought F4P was too young a crowd, too crowded, too loud. “It’s going to change a little bit, but we try to do that with all our events.”

Instead of a separate arm of WHS with de Nicolas at the helm, F4P will be folded into the organization’s roster of other fundraising events — such as the annual Bark Ball (a dinner that has 800 donors and 500 dogs, and raises about $600,000) — and run by the small WHS staff and a volunteer committee.

De Nicolas’s next project? Introducing her high-end pet shampoo — with her own four dogs as salespups. “I’m an entrepreneur at heart” she said. “And when people come to my house, I don’t want it to smell like dog.”

Earlier: ‘Fashion for Paws’: A young people’s gala comes of age, 4/16/12

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