It's the eyes that get to you-the large, appealing eyes of thin children with foreign names who appear in the advertisements of Save The Children looking for a sponsor to help them find their way out of a dommed existence. Those eyes look out from the magazine pages with a mute appeal that persuades some 300,000 Americans to send in $192 per year to save a child.

Behind the eyes is an enormous organization operating in the United States and 17 foreign countries, with a professional staff of about 100 and an annual budge of $12 million-a budget that has gone up 15 percent during the past year while most Americans were beginning to cut down on their discretionary spending.

"The most widespread childhood disease today is the problem of poverty," said Marjorie Benton of Evanston, Ill., board chairman of the American Save the Children organization, last night at a gathering whose air of understated elegance made the idea of poverty seem very remote indeed. Approximately 80 of the organization's most prominent and affluent Washington members and their friends attended a dinner and cocktail reception at the Sheraton Carlton to welcome a visiting dignitary from England and to prepare for Save the Children Day, which will be celebrated next Tuesday.

The visitors was the Lady Alexandra Metcalffe, vice chairman of Save the Children in England and daughter of Lord Curzon, who was viceroy of India for six years. She had spent the past week in New Mexico, visiting Indian pueblos where Save the Children programs are in operation.

"I came to Washington to visit the 'Flight to Albion' exhibition," she confied. "It has some dresses that belonged to my mother-she was American, you know."

She said that she became interested in the work of Save the Children "many years ago, when my father was the foreign secretary," and each year she visits overseas projects of the organization, including those in India, where her father was once the all-powerful representative of the Empire.

"Our work is gquite different from the Americans, who concentrate on community development projects," Lady Alexandra explained. "We're really medical workers, with teams of doctors, nurses and health visitors, and we work separately, butof course we do help one another."

Save the Children was founded 60 years ago byan Englishwoman, Eglantine Jebb, who went to Europe after World War I, was horrified by the spectacle of starving children and collected money from her friends to help them. The American organization dates from 1932 and decided some time ago to change from direct financial supprot of children to the improvement of life in te communities where the children are growing up. "We have found that if you just help the child, it doesn't work over the long run," said Marjorie Benson.

Members at the dinner gave various reasons for their interest in the organization. "We don't have any children, and sometimes I think it's just as well when I see the problems my friends are having with their children," said one woman. "But I think children are terribly important, and I want to help them."

"I have three children," said another, "and I'm afraid we are not leaving them nearly as good a world as our parents left us. I think we have to do what we can to make their world livable; I know some people with pets who are living more comfortably than some children."

David L. Guyer, president of Save the Children and a former employe of both the State De partment and the United Nations, said he was particularly proud of the organization's record in Lebanon: "We had some staff people who were Christians and some who were Arabs, and we were able to work on both sides through all the fighting. They were able to continue operations for more than a year while outside funds were cut off."

Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho), who is not a member, attended the dinner and said he thought "voluntary aid is more effective than government aid; the money goes so much further." CAPTION: Picture 1, Lady Alexandra Metcalfe, left, and Mrs. David Bruce chat with Sen. Frank Church; Picture 2, Lebanese Ambassador and Mrs. Itani with David Guyer, left; photos by Harry Naltchayan-The Washington Post