If you are asking for money -- a lot of money -- why not do it at a place called Cafe Paradiso?
Of course, Jill Sherman, Haverford College's vice president for institutional advancement, let prospective donor Angela Hobart choose the little cafe around the corner from the British Museum, where Hobart teaches.
In a sense, this was a formality. Over more than a year, Sherman had guided Hobart through what she calls the "dance" of negotiating a large gift for the school.
"There comes a time when the dance is smooth, and you follow each other's steps," Sherman said. "But I am leading -- even though it doesn't appear so -- if I am doing my job well."
Now the final moves are being choreographed over cappuccino at Paradiso.
Call it the globalization of giving. Raising money is the lifeblood of higher education, and universities are now competing for private contributions all over the world. They are reaching out to alumni living abroad, foreign undergraduates and their often well-to-do families, and wealthy "admirers" such as Hobart.
Hobart, a British anthropologist, has agreed to endow for three years a study-abroad program for Haverford students and faculty at her estate in Ascona, Switzerland.
And Sherman, who knows how to ask nicely but never loses sight of her goal, has Hobart thinking about a lifetime commitment "in the six-figure neighborhood."
Competition among U.S. universities has expanded their neighborhoods when it comes to attracting students, faculty and money. The race to get bigger and better has spread abroad.
In more than six years at Haverford, Sherman has led two successful capital campaigns and transformed the Pennsylvania school into a force in international fundraising.
Hobart did not attend Haverford, but she spent the first 12 years of her life there while her father, Edmund Stinnes, was on the faculty. She admires Haverford's Quaker background and its peace and global citizenship program.
"Both of my parents were internationally orientated," explained Hobart as she sipped her coffee, her graying hair covering the collar of a blue batik shirt purchased on a recent trip to Bali. Hobart travels frequently to Indonesia and is considered an expert on its indigenous peoples and art.
Sherman glanced at a red folder with a college logo that contained all of her fundraising proposals and agreements for this weeklong trip. As Hobart reviewed the documents, Sherman dropped a little bomb.
"We're also thinking about getting a little bit bigger, as a college," she said.
"Oh, my goodness," Hobart said. "In what way?"
"First, because of our expanded agenda in the arts," Sherman said smoothly. "Also our new international focus."
"I hope it's not going to be too big," Hobart said. "That's what I find so appealing."
Sherman gave assurances. That's part of the dance, too. Don't spoil the mood, but lay the groundwork for something more daring. Bigger school, bigger needs.
Contributions to colleges and universities in the United States rose by 3.4 percent in 2004, according to an annual survey by the Council for Aid to Education at the Rand Corp.
Nearly half of the $24.4 billion raised last year came from individuals, almost a 10 percent increase from 2003. Alumni giving is the base of support, but the increase was mainly driven by gifts from non-alumni donors, which increased by 21.5 percent.
The council does not track foreign donations, but international contributions largely derive from alumni and non-alumni individual donors.
Tom Smith Tseng, associate director of Stanford's Office of Asian Relations, compared international advancement these days to an "arms race" and said if a school does not travel abroad, it will be left behind.
"A leading U.S. university without a global outlook in its alumni outreach and development activity is one that overlooks the potential of a group of constituents who may be ready and willing to help," Tseng said.
He described a trip to Beijing in September when he bumped into representatives from Cornell and Yale, with Princeton about to appear. Tseng said his China stop netted $1.5 million in scholarships and fellowships for Stanford.
"Studies have shown that foreign donors are motivated by the same factors that influence their American counterparts: belief in the institution's mission and a desire to do good," Tseng said.
Haverford's Sherman has a great deal of energy, a head for names and faces, an outgoing personality, and the patience to develop long-term relationships.
Sherman persuaded President Thomas R. Tritton to let her travel abroad, and now he, too, travels annually to Asia. Four years ago, she established an international council, made up of Haverford graduates who live abroad or who have significant business interests abroad.
The council helps to recruit foreign students and provides a college connection for graduates who are working and living abroad.
"We've discovered that a significant number of people spend time in their career in places like London or Paris," Sherman said. "If you ignore alumni at a critical growth period in their life when they may be lonely or disconnected, and then you come back to them in 20 years and hold out your hat -- what's that about?"
Sherman now is building contacts in Asia. In the spring of 2004, a Chinese couple, Ying Wu and his wife, Yalan, stopped by her office while their son took the campus tour. Wu encouraged her to add more Asian students, and Sherman replied that they hoped the current fundraising campaign would produce $10 million in scholarships for international students.
Wu turned to his wife. "I think we can help them," he said, explaining to Sherman that he was a "significant" businessman who could open a lot of doors in China. He phoned the next day and told Sherman he wanted to give $200,000 for scholarship money for Chinese students.
A written pledge for the amount followed by facsimile 30 minutes later.
"It was one of the most remarkable experiences I've ever had in my life," Sherman said.
She has had some remarkable ones. Sherman was in a cab on the way to the World Trade Center to meet a wealthy college alumnus on Sept. 11, 2001. Several Haverford alumni died that day.
At a Haverford memorial service, Sherman met James Kinsella, class of 1982, who as a Microsoft employee helped found MSNBC. Kinsella now runs Interoute, a European voice and data network provider based in London.
In subsequent conversations, Kinsella indicated he was interested in the internationalization of Haverford.
His desire was to establish a scholarship fund for students from Islamic countries. Kinsella agreed to spend $150,000 on a three-year "pilot" program.
"My interest in international starts with business," Kinsella said during a meeting with Sherman in his offices in the Docklands district of London. "The world could benefit from educating an Arab kid at a place like Haverford. This, for me, is not about Haverford students benefiting from diversity, but about the kid from the Arab world going to Haverford and becoming a leader at home."
Sherman beamed. For her, the dance had begun, and she knew all the next steps.