Lions world services making changes while seeking CEO.LIONS WORLD SERVICES FOR the Blind hopes to prevent a third consecutive annual deficit by attracting more trainees to its campus.
The Little Rock nonprofit, which helps blind and partially blind people function independently, lost $455,000 in its fiscal year that ended June 30, 2008. For the fiscal year that ends Tuesday, it expects to post another loss, Interim CEO Carl Foreman said last week, but he wasn't sure how big the loss would be.
Lions World Services wants to have a new chief executive officer in place by Sept. 1. In April, the board of directors released Ramona Sangalli, who had been the organization's president and chief executive officer for nine years.
"Sometimes new blood in an organization re-energizes it," Foreman said.
Sangalli declined to comment about Lions World Services and said these days she's "enjoying myself."
The organization also announced in April that it was shelving plans to build an approximately $30 million headquarters on an 8.6-acre site in downtown Little Rock near the Clinton Presidential Library and the Heifer International headquarters.
Foreman said he didn't know when the project would be rekindled.
"We would like to turn dirt on that as soon as possible," he said. "But right now, we can't predict when that would be beneficial to us. We don't want our attention distracted from our main mission of providing the services."
Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, D-Ark., both have pending appropriation requests of $650,000 for the 2010 fiscal year to go to Lions to be used to finalize the design and engineering work for its new facilities.
Foreman said the first goal of Lions World Services is to increase the number of trainees at the campus to 70. For the last two years, it has averaged 50 trainees, but it needs 63 to 66 to break even.
Foreman said Lions World Services would start cultivating better relationships with the counselors who work in each of the 50 states who refer blind or partially blind people to a training facility. He said it's one of the first things the organization can do without spending a lot of money.
He said 60 percent of those counselors have been on the job fewer than five years.
"We have to make sure that these folks know what we can offer," Foreman said. "Right now, we could be working in all 50 states."
Trainees, who have come from 58 countries, could stay anywhere from a couple of weeks to nine months, depending on what skills they need to learn.
"Lions World has been around since 1947, and so if they weren't [doing a good job], they probably wouldn't be around," said Bill Johnson, CEO of Arkansas Lighthouse for the Blind. "When I travel with the Arkansas Lighthouse for the Blind and visit with some of these other agencies around the county that serve the blind and visually impaired, those people are very well aware of Lions World Services.... It is a nationally recognized organization."
Crunching the Numbers
Foreman said another priority on the to-do list is improving the accounting system. Currently, Lions World Services isn't sure exactly what it costs to train an individual.
LWS offers 14 vocation programs, evaluation services and counseling for the trainees, who stay on campus in the dormitories and eat meals in the cafeteria. "Under our present accounting system, we're not able to separate all of those costs out into individual programs," Foreman said. "That presents a management problem for us. We hope to improve on that."
Lions World Services is working with Howland & Norris CPA of Little Rock to make the necessary changes in its accounting system, he said.
Training an individual costs about $4,800 a month. The states cover about 80 percent of the cost but are always trying to lower what they have to pay, Foreman said.
Other revenue streams include money from fundraising and grants. The organization's revenue also had been falling.
For the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2008, its revenue was $3.2 million, down from $4.1 million the previous fiscal year.
Foreman said Lions World wasn't managed as well as it could have been.
"That's why we're putting so much emphasis on looking forward," he said.
By Mark Friedman