Sustainable Organizations? — The Fundamentals Haven't Changed Much

While researching women’s leadership in Philadelphia for History Making Productions, I found the wonderful essay below, called “A Recipe for an Ideal Club.”  Courtesy of the New Century Guild, founded in 1882 by Eliza Sproat Turner (1826–1903)  to address the specific needs of “self-supporting women,” the 1916 “recipe” captures all the essentials of building a nonprofit organization that can stand the test of time.  Author Elizabeth Cornett of Phoenixville reminds us to resist the temptation to rush toward the “icing” of programming before the foundations of a valued mission and effective, accountable leadership are in place.  Ms. Cornett also captures vividly the essential point that work like this should bring a “feast of reason and a flow of soul” to those who participate.  That sense of delight can be easy to neglect but hard to succeed without.

The “recipe” opened the Club’s 1916 cookbook, compiled for fundraising purposes.  The complete cookbook is available online at

Please enjoy Ms. Cornett’s humor and insight.  I urge all readers to consider how much we in cultural work today still need to be reminded of these essential ingredients and processes …

Recipe for an Ideal Club

Second floor library in the New Century Guild Building at 1307 Locust in Philadelphia.  Photo by Peter Woodall, Hidden City Philadelphia
Second floor library in the New Century Guild Building at 1307 Locust in Philadelphia. Photo by Peter Woodall, Hidden City Philadelphia

Take two parts of desire for a larger living, or what we term culture, and two parts of intelligent interest in the vital questions of the day, and mix them with enough sociability to make a light sponge, and set it away to rise.  When it has risen to about twice the original bulk, add some carefully picked officers and directors – washing in the waters of self-sacrifice and plentifully dredged with perseverance..  then add one part civic work, or as much as your town (or state) requires, and one part philanthropic activity; allow a gospel measure of the genial spirit of reciprocity for sweetening, and cream it up with fresh rich thought and pour it in.;  add enough of the milk of human kindness to make a smooth batter.  Take a whole heart full of enthusiasm, and dilute it with a little common sense, and when the alkali of the enthusiasm unites with the acid of common sense in a foaming mass – stir it quickly into the mixture.  Then add your spices – womanliness, tact, humor, broad-mindedness and talent – with a dash of difference of opinion.

Now take a dozen fresh committees, and beat them up well—beat them up until they are stiff enough to stand alone, and toss them in; then throw in your afternoon programs – not too full, as they must have room enough to swell up with animated discussion.  Lastly add your flavoring – Robert Browning’s extract of optimism, though some prefer Emerson’s.  There is also a new article on the market, which many use and consider equal to optimism, known as Fletcherism; but any good optimism will do.

Now beat the whole up well with individual effort –and on this the whole success of the club depends.  When thoroughly beaten, pour it into a large vessel of opportunity, which has been previously well greased with Roberts’ Rules of Order to keep it from sticking, and set it in a comfortable clubhouse for from one and a half to two hours – it depends upon the temperament manifested.  Test it by inserting a splint from the broom of experience, which splint, when the club is done, must come out clean and shining.  When it has cooled a little, make an icing of afternoon teas, lectures, and various entertainments, and spread thickly over the top.  This will make a feast of reason and a flow of soul for about one hundred members.  Serve it once a week or every two weeks.

Elizabeth A. Cornett

Woman’s Club, Phoenixville, PA


1916, from The Philadelphia New Century Club book of recipes.  Compiled and edited by Mrs. H. S. Prentiss Nichols, President  (Isobel McIlhenny)  (Phila:  John Winston Co., 1915), p. 11.