When it comes to fundraisers, the bigger the house, the bigger the draw. Charitable organizations and political campaigns alike have found that people enjoy going to fundraisers at people’s homes, especially the more palatial residences.
A party in a private home has atmosphere, charm, and doesn’t cost the beneficiary a thing. But why would someone open their home to hundreds of people, many of whom they don’t know?
“I think it’s about purpose,” said Fran Redmon, wife of attorney Gant Redmon. “You want it to count.” The Redmons have opened their doors again and again to raise money, usually for arts organizations or the Republican party. But they recently held a fundraiser for Healthy Families. “We really enjoyed that,” said Fran.
They’ve enjoyed almost all the functions they’ve held at Tall Oaks over the past 29 years. “I think it has a lot to do with personality. The way I test on Myers-Briggs, this sounds like something that would be fun to me,” said Fran. It also helps that Gant enjoys it as well.
Tall Oaks was once one of the larger homes in the area, but recently, she said, “one of the things I’ve noticed is that we used to be a large house, but we’re not anymore.”
ABOUT FIVE YEARS ago, Rafat and Shaista Mahmood purchased an eight-acre lot formerly owned by the Neitzey family and built a grand place on the Potomac River.
The Mahmoods host fundraising events for many different organizations — everything from INOVA Alexandria Hospital to Al Gore to Save the Children. They’ve had as many as 700 people; the largest was a fundraiser they hosted for Vice President Al Gore when he was running for president.
“He arrived on our lawn in a helicopter,” said Mahmood. “The kids in the neighborhood came running. That was the most interesting. There were so many security boats in the river and ambulances and fire trucks on the side.”
The Mahmoods also held a big event for Hillary Clinton during her senatorial campaign; She arrived late because it was the same day that New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani dropped out of the race due to colon cancer, and she wanted to wait for the announcement.
The Mahmoods are from Pakistan, but “this is the country we want to live in,” said Shaista. “I feel good about doing things for charitable organizations. We help in anyway we can.”
BOTH MAHMOOD AND Redmon have given so many parties that they know what to expect. “You need very good planning,” said Redmon. “It needs to be on paper for all to see.”
Timing is critical, and there needs to be a schedule for the caterer, the speakers – everyone, she said. “Think of yourself as a hotel catering service. A poorly planned party could hurt the organization, because people wouldn’t want to come again the next year.”
Weather is sometimes difficult to control, but Redmon said she’s always ready with umbrellas. She also makes sure that if there’s snow, the parking lot of the adjacent Temple Beth El is plowed; she uses the lot for parking. “The first thing I do is get the date and call Temple Beth El to ask if we can use their parking lot. They are the world’s best neighbors.”
Joe Viar often provides valet parking for fundraisers he holds at his river home, and often makes use of his neighbor’s parking lot. A Hampden-Sydney alumnus, Viar hosts cook-outs, recruiting parties and send-offs for the new students every year.
He’s hosted fundraisers for United Community Ministries, Campagna Center and the Breast Cancer Walk. Viar also hosts the yearly thank-you party for the Inova Alexandria Hospital’s 1872 Society. “I try to let somebody use the house once a month,” said Viar.
While Viar has hosted many fundraisers for Democratic candidates, he doesn’t support a particular party and will host a party to introduce Steve Baril, a fellow Hampden-Sydney alum seeking the Republican nomination for state Attorney General. “I think it’s a tough job being a politician, and getting a good candidate is important,” said Viar.
Over the years, Viar and others have purchased most of their own supplies: tables and chairs, china, stemware and linens. Some items still need to be rented, though, and Viar said that it’s always a challenge to find every glass at the end of the night. “They usually turn up, but they might be in the bathroom, under a chair or upstairs.”
JOINING THE FUNDRAISING ranks, attorney Ben DiMuro threw his first fundraiser last month for Lt. Governor Tim Kaine (D). DiMuro met Kaine while serving as Virginia State Bar president. “I was impressed with him and offered to host a party,” said DiMuro.
Usually the host provides the caterer, and the sponsoring group takes care of the mailing list and invitations. But DiMuro did it all: Using the host’s list will widen the circle of acquaintances for a politician.
He sent out 200 invitations and ended up with 50 guests. Since this was DiMuro’s first political fundraiser, he was self-conscious about asking his friends. “It’s hard to ask people for money for politicians,” he said. “It’s easier to ask for charities like Special Olympics.”
Since this was his first fundraiser, DiMuro started from scratch. He used Much Moore Quality Catering; they provided a bartender and two waiters, who circulated with the food. “I enjoyed it a great deal,” said DiMuro.
Viar uses Catering by Charlene for all of his functions. The same servers, Rudy and Bernard, have been to his home so many times, they know right where to get setup.
THEY ALSO KNOW how much food to bring. They never run out, Viar said – instead he usually faces the opposite problem: too much left over. Since Viar often leaves on a trip after an event, there is nobody to eat the food.
“We’ve started to downsize. It moves things along and cuts down on waste,” he said. “It’s almost a cookie cutter process. Usually the only decisions that need to be made are whether to have food in the front and the back and whether or not to tent the deck.”
Redmon uses Design Cuisine because they’re excellent and understanding. “There’s nobody that trains better than Bill Homan,” Design Cuisine’s owner, said Redmon. Mahmood likes her food to have a foreign flair, so she uses a Pakistani caterer from Annandale.
A PARTY’S END is always a challenge. Viar remembered one partcular night, when a departing guest couldn’t find her fur coat.
The only remaining fur coat was monogrammed, and the initials didn’t match any guest’s name. Through process of elimination, they were able to determine that another guest had accidentally taken the wrong coat, and leaving behind a coat with her mother-in-law’s initials.
Many fundraiser attendees are strangers to the homeowner. Redmon was at the Farmer’s Market earlier this month when someone thanked her for hosting a party.
Viar met his significant other, Bonnie Christ, 10 years ago at a fundraiser for Earl Williams. “One reason I enjoy fundraisers is that I’ve met a lot of wonderful people,” he said