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The Science of Special

The only way your organization will ever be able to grow the model to its potential is by mastering the cultivation process. Whether you are aiming to grow your Point of Entry guests into Ask Event guests and Multiple-Year Donors, grow your Multiple-Year Donors into Challenge and Leadership Gift donors, or grow your Challenge and Leadership Gift donors into major gifts, capital, and endowment donors, they will only proceed around the circle with you if you tend and nurture their unique interest in your work.

While it is easy to feel overwhelmed and burdened by the thought of having to cultivate so many people at so many different levels, it is worth stopping to recognize how far you have already come if you have been following our step-by-step process.

Can you see that if you had a similar step-by-step process for cultivation, you could gradually ramp up the entire model to the next level and begin to experience the spiraling effect that our long-term implementers all talk about?

We refer to this process—this personalized cultivation system—as the “science of special,” and just like the rest of the model, it is highly effective if you take it one step at a time and follow the system.

What Do We Mean By “Cultivation”?
For each donor, everything that happens between the Point of Entry follow-up call and the Ask (either one-on-one or at the Ask Event) is what we call the Cultivation Superhighway. That careful listening during the Five-Step Follow-Up Call, when each person tells you if and how they might see themselves becoming more involved with your group, determines the next step you will take with them.

It’s as if a good friend of yours stopped by your office, you took some time to show him around, and the next time you talked to him, you thanked him for coming by and asked what he thought. Imagine that he immediately zeroed in on the environmental program, which is one of many programs you offer. Even though you would have other priorities for growing other programs first, you would never think of derailing your friend into another program area. You would invite him back to meet with your great staff members who are working on the environmental program.

Over time, if gently nurtured with occasional phone calls, emails, and face-to-face contact with your program people, scientists, and students, your friend would become more and more engaged in your work. He would contribute naturally that which he has in abundance—his knowledge, passion, contacts, time, and, when asked to make a longer-term financial contribution, he would naturally sign on for five years and probably offer to be a Table Captain at your Ask Events each year.

In future years, he would likely become an Ambassador, hosting a private Point of Entry for his friends or colleagues, he might very naturally serve as a Table Captain at your Ask Event, where his Point of Entry guests would join him at his table. He would come to know many of your staff and volunteers. He would have helped to grow your environmental program. His relationship would be with that aspect of your mission that most mattered to him. He would stay involved because your group’s work is important to him, rather than out of any sense of guilt or obligation to you.

Likewise, you would have gotten to know him better. You would know his family situation and, eventually, his giving capacity. He would likely become a board member or honorary advisory committee member.

When you launched your endowment campaign to ensure the future of the organization, you would be sure to talk with him and his family about a named family endowment structured to sustain the environmental program into the future.

That simple, natural, organic flow of contacts and communication is what we call cultivation. At Benevon, we define cultivation as tending, growing, and nurturing something gently over time.

More specifically, cultivation in our model means a minimum of two personal contacts with a donor in the course of a year—each one highly customized to that donor’s particular interests, needs, and style. There is not a simple template for donor cultivation other than this simple mandate: it’s got to be personal!

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Calling Your Donors—It’s the Magic

I’m beginning to think the old-fashioned phone call is going the way of the hand-written letter: ancient history! With texting, tweeting, and email as the easy, quick alternatives, picking up the phone and having a two-way, voice-to-voice conversation with a real human being feels almost scary.

Yet it is precisely what is needed to develop and maintain donor relationships. That genuine dialog is at the heart of donor cultivation—it’s the magic.

If you plan to use the Benevon Model for its intended purpose—to engage and develop relationships with lifelong individual donors and build towards long-term financial sustainability—then some members of your team will need to have regular telephone contact with your individual donors.

Here’s how I recommend you begin:

Set aside one hour a week, every single week of the year, for the sole purpose of calling your donors.

While most executive directors, development directors, and board members are not uncomfortable speaking with people, when it comes to calling a donor, many people fear the donor will think they are calling to ask for more money. Here is an outline of what to cover on each call.

  1. First, thank them sincerely for their gifts. “I’m calling today as a _____________ (board member, executive director, volunteer) with the Community Reintegration Program (CRP) just to thank you for your gift. It made a huge difference to us.”
  2. Second, give one specific example, or tell one specific story of the difference their gift meant to your organization. Let them know you really mean it.
    • “Your gift allowed us to work with one recently released inmate named Sal to provide an apartment, a job, and classes at the community college to help him build a new life.
    • Many people don’t appreciate the daunting challenges that prisoners face when they are released back into the community—the temptations of their old lifestyle, the difficulty finding work after serving time.
    • Despite the state cuts in funding that meant we had to cut three staff in our community re-entry program and serve 200 fewer clients per year, your gift allowed us to continue serving Sal. And for him, it made all the difference.
    • Furthermore, just your awareness and support for our mission here at CRP inspires us and boosts our morale in these challenging times.”
  3. Never say thank you without telling a story of how your organization changed a life (or a community or an issue) thanks to their support.
  4. You may be surprised when the donor wants to talk further. The easiest way to deepen or begin to build your relationship is by asking them a few simple questions.
    • The best question to ask them is, “What is it about our work that interests you? Is there any particular aspect or program?” That way you’ll know how to keep them engaged going forward.
    • Another good question to ask is, “May I ask how you got interested in this issue in the first place?”
  5. Before you know it, you may find yourself engaged in a real conversation with a passionate donor.
  6. Finally, invite them to any upcoming mission-focused events, such as a graduation for your program participants or a father-and-child birthday party night, etc.

There is absolutely no substitute for talking to your donors. Even if you get an answering machine, leave a message with the same kind of information in it—a heartfelt thank you plus one example of how your gift made a difference, and do leave your phone number for the donor to call you back if they would like to talk further.

Remember that your donors are people who already care about your work. They will be happy to talk with a real person who is working hard to fulfill the organization’s mission.

Do it right now. Pick up the phone and call a donor. Then schedule at least one hour a week to make those calls and “just do it.” Having that true dialog with your donors is where all the magic happens.

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Creating a Major Donor Pipeline

Q: In the Benevon Model, are there any resources you can share for a creating a pipeline between our annual donors and major donors? We are beginning discussions about how to honor and engage long-term supporters.

Elodie in Minnesota

A: The Benevon Model is a pipeline-filling system for major gifts. In addition to using the model to engage new people who have no prior connection to your work, this process is also a method for further engaging and cultivating your existing donors.

Many groups have a base of donors from prior fundraising events or annual direct mail appeals. While these faithful supporters have been sending in an annual donation or contributing at an event each year, it’s possible that little else has been done to further engage them in the mission.

You can use the Benevon Model to launch a campaign to get to know your donors and to evaluate who would be prospects to become major donors down the road.

Begin by stratifying your list of donors based on the amount they have given. Start with the donors who give the most each year and have done so for the longest period of time.

Identify the best person to serve as an Ambassador for each individual. This should be the person who knows the donor best, and who agrees to personally invite the donor to attend a Point of Entry Event that they are hosting. The relationship between this Ambassador and the donor will make all the difference in your ability to get the donor to a Point of Entry! Tell them that you are hosting these one-hour events to showcase the impact of all that you, and how their support over the years has made a difference.

Once they attend a Point of Entry with the Ambassador who invited them, make the follow-up call within two to three days. Listen for what the person learned and what interested them about your work. Find an immediate next step to further engage this person. Perhaps they want to serve as an Ambassador and host their own Point of Entry Event!

For others, it might be attending a small group meeting with your CEO and other donors to learn more about your current gaps and vision for the future. Make it personal and tied to that individual’s interest in your mission. Keep cultivating until you know the person is ready to be asked. Some donors will take just a few cultivation contacts while others may need several contacts before they are truly ready to be asked.

When the person is ready to be asked, invite them to become part of your Multiple-Year Giving Society by making a commitment of at least $1,000 for five years. This can be done one-on-one or at your Ask Event, whatever works best for each donor.

This five-year pledge gives you even more time and permission to further engage that donor. It’s not just about invoicing them for five years and calling them back in year six to re-up. It’s an opportunity to build a deeper relationship with each donor. Eventually these same donors will be prospects for larger major gifts, capital, and even endowment.

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How to Conquer the Fear of Asking

The fear of asking for a charitable contribution from a complete stranger (or worse, from a close friend) is legitimate. I certainly would not want to do that either. It puts everyone in an uncomfortable position. But if you follow the Benevon Model, by the time you ask a potential donor for money, they will have been cultivated sufficiently to be ready to give. There should be no awkwardness or fear. It will merely be a matter of nudging them gently to do something they had already been thinking about doing.

Most of the fear associated with asking for money has nothing to do with money anyway. It is our fear of asking for anything. There you are at the fancy dinner party, sitting at the round table of ten people, desperately scheming how to have the salt or butter passed to you from the other side of the table. Asking seems like intruding. It seems rude. It seems selfish. From a very young age, we have been taught not to intrude. At Benevon, we call it fear of “please pass the salt.”

When you overlay that fear of asking for anything with our cultural neurosis about money, it is no wonder we all have so much baggage about asking.

In our workshops, we remind our participants that people would rather say yes than no when asked for something. Think of the last time someone asked you for something and you said no. How did it make you feel? Most people feel like they are being mean when they say no. We feel like a much nicer person when we say yes.

So your job, as an asker, is to figure out what you can ask people for that they can naturally say yes to. We say that people can only contribute freely what they have in abundance. Anything else would be sacrificial giving, which is inconsistent with the abundance-based principles of the model.

Make a mental list of a few things which you personally do not feel you have enough of right now. Perhaps you feel you don’t have enough time or money. Now imagine that someone comes to you and asks you, very persuasively, to give them some of your time or money. Although you would like to say yes, if you are true to yourself, you would have to say no.

Now think of a few things that you have just about the right amount of—friends, family, clothes, pillows. If someone were to ask you to give them some of your friends or pillows for a project of interest to you, you would be more likely to say yes.

Finally, make your mental list of those things that you have in abundance. Books, shoes, old sporting goods? If someone were to ask you to give some of those, it might feel as though they were doing you a favor to take them off your hands.

Your job with your donors and potential donors is to discover what it is that they have in abundance, and then to ask them only for that. You are no longer looking for sacrificial donations. You will need to get to know each donor well enough to know that they can easily and naturally say yes to what you will be asking them for.

Even if it means you may get less than you had hoped, you will have left your donors with a positive experience of giving, rather than a negative experience of being pressured to do something they did not authentically want to do.

That way, they will be looking forward to staying in contact with your organization throughout the next year as you deepen your relationship further before asking them to give again.

In the Benevon Model, the key to successful, terror-free asking is the answer to only one question: Is this person ready to be asked? Another way of saying it is: “Have we gotten to know this person enough so that it would feel natural to ask them to make a financial contribution to the organization now? Would asking this person now be nothing more than nudging the inevitable?”

If your answer is anything other than a resounding “yes,” if it feels to you as if it is too soon to ask, then wait. Go back, re-listen, re-involve, re-cultivate, until the person is sufficiently engaged.

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Triaging Your Follow-Up Calls

In the Benevon Model, every guest at your Point of Entry Event will receive a follow-up call within two to three days. This is not just a quick thank-you call. Rather, this is an interactive research call, a one-on-one focus group in which you gather critical data on each potential lifelong donor and friend.

The purpose of this call is to gauge the guest’s level of interest in becoming more involved with your organization. If the guest is not interested in becoming more involved, they are “blessed and released.” If they are interested in becoming more involved, this follow-up call is the start of an authentic dialog, which is the foundation of any lasting relationship.

With all of that in mind, who makes the call is nearly as important! Keep these guidelines in mind when carefully selecting who from your organization makes your Five-Step Follow-Up Calls.

  • Ideally the person making the follow-up calls will be your Benevon Team Leader, or another staff person—not a board member or volunteer.
  • This person must like talking with people on the phone and enjoy developing relationships.
  • This person must have a speaking role at the Point of Entry Event (tour guide, storyteller). When they make that follow-up call, your guests must already be familiar with this person.
  • It can’t be someone who will just be doing the calls to check them off a list. This person must be passionate about this important step in the Benevon Model—the beginning of a lifelong relationship with potential donors!
  • This person must know how to use your database. After each call, every bit of data gathered must be recorded in your database. Be sure your donor tracking system has a section for you to record and track notes about each donor contact and about your next steps.

Triaging who calls each guest

  • Your staff Team Leader will make the majority of the calls, but there may be times when your executive director or CEO should make the follow-up call, such as when a board member or major donor attends.
  • If you have multiple development staff, there may be times when another staff member does the follow-up because they are already engaged in building a relationship with that donor.
  • Anyone who makes a follow-up call must be well-versed in the process and record the conversation in detail in your donor tracking system.

Having the right person make the follow-up calls will make a big difference in your results moving forward!

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Team Leader: You Can Delegate That

The Team Leader has a unique role on the Sustainable Funding Team—to coordinate the team’s efforts, not to do all the work!

The biggest challenge for Team Leaders is to delegate tasks to people who are often higher in the organization’s hierarchy, such as their executive director or esteemed board members. However, as your team meets regularly, people will naturally take on parts of the process that they enjoy.

Here are nine tasks that the Team Leader can delegate to other members of the team.

    • Managing Ambassadors—if you have a team member who has already been a successful Ambassador, engage her in a new role as an Ambassador Manager, helping new Ambassadors get started and ensuring their success.
    • Handling the logistics for the Ask Event or the Point of Entry Events, securing a venue, organizing table rentals, food planning, etc.
    • Planning and executing Free Feel-Good Cultivation Events and ensuring that your Multiple-Year Giving Society donors each make it to one such event each year.
    • Recruiting successful Ambassadors to be Table Captains and supporting/managing these Table Captains prior to the Ask Event.
    • Being the Cultivation Partner for a number of multi-year donors, leading up to a larger Ask.
    • Being the “sizzle police” for the Point of Entry Event—making sure your organization’s tour maintains all of the elements that make it sizzling with facts and emotion, each and every time you hold the event.
    • Making thank-you/invitation calls to donors.
    • Supporting data tracking efforts by being trained and entering data for cultivation contacts with donors.
    • Board members on the team can be accountable for keeping the rest of the board informed and actively engaged in your organization’s implementation of the Benevon Model.

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Sizzling, or Just Nice?

We say your Point of Entry Event must be sizzling, but what do we mean by that? We mean memorable, compelling, and gripping, even life-changing. It has to leave a visceral imprint on the guest—something they will never forget.

The event needs to tug at the heartstrings several times by including four or five stories, told first person, by letter or using audio tape.

In addition to inspiring people, the Point of Entry needs to let each guest know that you would love to have them get more involved with your organization, in whatever way works for them, ideally by becoming an Ambassador and hosting and filling a private tour with ten or more of their friends or colleagues.

Guests need to know that no matter how nice your surroundings look, you are not “handled.” The mission you are here to fulfill still urgently needs them: you haven’t yet cured that disease yet, ended child abuse or homelessness. There’s still more work to be done.

Unfortunately, not all the Point of Entry Events we visit are that sizzling. Although our groups often give themselves high marks when they rate themselves on their events, our coaches don’t always agree. We see Point of Entry Events that may be technically correct in that they follow the proper one-hour agenda, but they don’t knock your socks off.

These lackluster events leave guests saying, “What an interesting group. Those people obviously know what they’re doing.” But they aren’t compelled to take action. Guests need to leave your Point of Entry saying, “I had no idea,”  or “Wait until I tell Jane—this is just the kind of thing she would love.”

In other words, even if guests choose not to become personally involved, they should be so excited about what they saw that they think  of other people they’d like to tell about it: people for whom your issue is “just their thing.”

I recall an exceptional Point of Entry I visited for a residential treatment home for children who had been abused and neglected. It had a wonderful theme: hands. I was greeted at the front door by an adult and child. The child took my hand and walked me over to the sign-in table. I was both physically and emotionally “touched” from the minute I arrived.

There were handprints of children used as metaphors throughout the Point of Entry. As victims of abuse, these children had come to associate hands with bad things. This residential program aimed to transform that image for these children. They wove this theme into the stories told, and we viewed pictures of handprints in the bedrooms and hallways as we toured the building.

The most memorable moment for me was the finale of that Point of Entry. Each guest was escorted by a child to a tray filled with colorful finger paint, where we got to make our own handprint on a big group poster. I will never forget that little five-year-old boy holding my hand proudly as we walked over to the paint, rolling up my sleeve, covering my hand with the slippery red paint, pushing down on the back of my hand to be sure every single digit was imprinted on the paper, and then walking me over to the bucket of warm soapy water, washing off the paint, and carefully drying my hand.

Before I left, I knelt down and gave him a hug, thanking him for the wonderful experience. It was such a proud moment for this child to know he had made a difference with me. Talk about memorable! It had been a long time since I’d done any finger painting, and the love and care that little boy took in helping me make a beautiful hand print spoke volumes about the work this organization does every day.

I went right home and told several people about this organization and, had I lived in that town, I would defintely have volunteered to serve as an Ambassador and host my own Point of Entry Event.

Keep asking yourself—and other people whose opinion you value: “Did our Point of Entry Event move you to tears?”

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Inviting Busy People to Tours

Q: Currently we invite individuals to come on a tour of our regional clinic and then invite them to a small benefit dinner, where they are asked to consider monthly support of the ministry. A tour is also conducted during this event, which is also held onsite.

Many of the people I contact are busy professionals and not always available to do both a tour and a dinner (which of course we try to schedule within just a few weeks of their initial tour).

How crucial do you think it is to get them to the initial tour prior to the tour included in the dinner?

Linda in Virginia

In the Benevon Model, your goal is to have all of your Ask Event guests attend a Point of Entry prior to being asked to give.

The Point of Entry is—very intentionally—the first step of the model. Rather than happening after someone has been asked to give, the true Point of Entry—one that is hosted by an Ambassador who brings a group of ten or more people to a private, invitation-only event that they are hosting—gives people a powerful initial experience of your mission and lets them control the flow of their ongoing engagement with your organization.

Rather than having your small dinners, where many guests are asked to give before they have attended a Point of Entry, our model would have you asking your biggest supporters (e.g., prior Table Captains) to serve as volunteer Ambassadors by hosting their own Point of Entry Events.

In the follow-up phone calls, you can find out if their guests are interested in your work and how they’d like to be involved. Stress your need for more Ambassadors (both at the Point of Entry and in the follow-up) and ask if they have a group of people they’d like to bring together to learn more about your work. Whether or not they choose to be an Ambassador, you will find out how they want to personally be involved in your work going forward and get them engaged.

You can ask people to invest in your work one-on-one whenever the time is right. Or, if you have held many Points of Entry, hosted by Ambassadors, you can put on a larger Ask Event where you ask people for money. In either scenario, we recommend asking people to join your Multiple-Year Giving Society, pledging to contribute a minimum of $1,000 a year for five years. This can be fulfilled through a monthly pledge (similar to what you are doing) but more importantly asks donors to commit to supporting your work long-term, not just for six months or a year.

This sounds quite different from how you’ve been doing it but would be following the Benevon Model.

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Your Treasure Map: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

One of the best ways to identify people to engage through your Point of Entry Events is to create a Treasure Map. In other environments, it might be called a network analysis or a mind map. We call it a Treasure Map because the purpose of the exercise is to unearth the buried treasure that your organization may have.

Create a Treasure Map by writing your organization’s name in a small circle in the middle of a large sheet of paper, and draw out spokes (like a wheel) around that. At the end of each spoke, put the name of a group that your organization naturally comes into contact with. Examples include board, volunteers, donors, vendors, community partners, and staff. Some groups should be further divided into subgroups. For example, “board” could be broken down into former board, advisory board, and governing board. Volunteers could be broken into all of your different types of volunteers. Donors could be broken into events, direct mail donors, special event donors, lapsed donors, etc.

Once you have fully fleshed out the Treasure Map, next to each group write the resources that group has in abundance. Are they tangible resources, like goods and services, or non-tangible resources, like passion or connections? List out two things each group has in abundance.

Next, look at the self-interest of the people in this group for being involved with your organization. This self-interest is not good or bad, it just is what it is. Self-interest might be that it feels good, that it pleases their boss, that they want recognition, or that they are learning a new skill or maintaining a social connection. Go from one group to the next and identify what might be their unique self-interest for being involved with your organization.

Once you have completed the Treasure Map exercise, how should you use it? For starters, identify one or more individuals per group who could naturally serve as Ambassadors to easily reach out to other people who fall into the same group, for example, all of the Tuesday afternoon program volunteers. Find one great ringleader from that group and ask them to host a Point of Entry for all of those other volunteers. Even if they are already involved as volunteers, once they attend the Point of Entry Event, they will likely learn something new about your organization, and, in their follow-up call with your Team Leader, they will likely volunteer to serve as an Ambassador.

Beyond using the Treasure Map to identify Ambassadors, you can use it to identify other individuals or subgroups of people to invite as guests to attend your Points of Entry.

Your organization should complete a Treasure Map exercise at least once a year—although some groups choose to do this exercise more often. Even after several years of implementing the Benevon Model, if you create a new Treasure Map with your current board, staff, or volunteers, they will have different and unique input. Your organization’s network is always evolving and changing, and even if you are looking at groups that have been involved with your organization long-term, there will be new people (think new board members, new event sponsors or donors) who will bring a fresh perspective.

Be sure your team is set up to do a deep dive into this exercise a minimum of once a year and always go back to it when you are looking for people to invite to Points of Entry!

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Three Questions to Prevent Ambassador Fallout

In the follow-up call made to each of your potential gold-standard Ambassadors, after they have come to their first Point of Entry Event, many will volunteer enthusiastically to be Ambassadors.

From the moment an enthusiastic new Ambassador volunteers until the day they host their private Point of Entry Event for ten or more guests, “life” will inevitably happen and there will likely be many temptations for the Ambassador to change their mind, potentially leaving you in the lurch.

To avoid this “Ambassador fallout” here are three things the Team Leader must clarify before you hang up the phone and count this person as a confirmed Ambassador:

When?
When would the Ambassador like to have their first Point of Entry Event? Would the Ambassador prefer to host a private Point of Entry Event or invite guests to the organization’s regularly scheduled Points of Entry? The ideal scenario would be for each Ambassador to host one private Point of Entry Event at your location, with at least ten guests in attendance, within three months of becoming an Ambassador. If the Ambassador is excited and has developed a guest list, there is no need to wait to have the event. Schedule their Point of Entry to take place as soon as possible. Choose the soonest date that works for everyone and make the event happen, capturing the initial momentum.

Where?
Where will the Point of Entry Event take place? Although the easiest location for your staff will no doubt be in the organization’s office, where your team will already have practiced and refined your Point of Entry program, once you have refined your Point of Entry in your office, and tested it over several months, you can begin to offer private Points of Entry in a Box in your Ambassadors’ homes, offices, or other meeting spaces. (See Chapter 16 in The Benevon Model for Sustainable Funding: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting it Right, Second Edition.)

Who?
Who will the Ambassador invite to attend? Be sure your Team Leader takes time in that first phone call to help the new Ambassador brainstorm their full Personal Treasure Map, identifying specific social or professional groups, book clubs, etc., that the person belongs to. Do not assume they will do this without you.

Have them walk through the same steps as the Treasure Map you made for your organization, starting by putting themselves in the center circle, adding the groups they naturally come into contact with, what each group has in abundance, the benefits for the groups in coming to a Point of Entry Event for your organization, and the lines connecting those who know each other. Give them enough time to go through all the steps. They probably will be surprised by all the treasure they have.

Then, ask them to make a list of ten to twenty individuals from the various categories on their Treasure Map who they would feel comfortable inviting to a Point of Entry Event. It’s often easiest for people to start off by inviting the people closest to them: friends and family. Beyond that, is there a ready-made group they are part of? Does that group have a standing meeting time? Would that be a group that might have an interest in coming to your Point of Entry Event?

Once you have answered these three questions and you can tell that the Ambassador is excited about hosting the event and has a vision for how it will look and feel, you can refer the Ambassador to your volunteer Ambassador Manager, who will keep in close contact with the Ambassador to ensure the success of their private Point of Entry Event.