Touchstone Story #86–Support Behind the Scenes

Launched in 1990, the SightFirst project was the largest, most ambitious campaign Lions Clubs International had ever undertaken. In partnership with governments and nonprofits around the world, Lions aspired to greatly reduce preventable and reversible blindness. Such a massive undertaking would require the enthusiastic participation of as many Lions and clubs as possible. The association estimated it would need to raise at least $130 million from Lions. Lions Clubs International Foundation issued a challenge to raise the funds by June 1994.

But Lions faced another more subtle but vitally important challenge. How would LCIF handle the accounting side of the campaign and process all these gifts and pledges?

“Lions had never done anything to this scale before,” said Yvonne Novak, LCIF donor services analysis coordinator. “We were building the system to handle pledges at the same time they were coming in.”

LCIF did not have a computer infrastructure ready to track everything for a campaign of this size. Reminders would have to be sent and pledges collected in addition to the initial recording. The process would last for years. In the meantime, every pledge and donation had to have a number, and it all had to be done by hand. LCIF struggled to keep up, overwhelmed with paperwork, especially during the final year of the campaign when the majority of the pledges and donations arrived.

Word went out to the entire Lions headquarters staff asking for help. Lions staffers worked extra hours during the week and on Saturdays and Sundays to make the campaign possible. Additional workers were hired and quickly trained to assist.

By the time the campaign ended in July 1994, Lions exceeded the initial goal, raising more than $146 million to help rid the world of preventable blindness. While the rest of the organization celebrated, the LCIF donor services staff didn’t pause long. They remained hard at work for months making sure every pledge was properly recorded. And during the next several years, the accounting department collected and processed the payments against the pledges.

The results were more than worth the effort. Millions of people worldwide had their sight restored or preserved because of the efforts of Lions—and the behind-the-scenes efforts of LCIF staff.

“We raised a lot of money, proved we could do it, survived it, and helped so many people around the world,” Novak said. “The programs are still going strong.”

“People every year now [are] getting their sight restored because of our SightFirst program through cataract surgery,” said Past International President Austin P. Jennings, who served as president from 1988-89 and served as the International Lead Gifts Coordinator for the campaign.

“It was most encouraging to know what can happen when we all decide that we are going to do [something], do it the right way and do it together,” said Jennings.

When Campaign SightFirst II began 10 years later, LCIF knew the challenges that might arise. This time, the staff was better prepared, and LCIF introduced a brand-new computer system to help handle the even bigger campaign. It was a smart move—Campaign SightFirst II raised more than $200 million.

Explore the exciting history of Lions Clubs International with our exclusive Touchstone Stories series. Don’t forget to share these stories with new members so they gain an understanding of Lions history!