Street Credentials and Management Backgrounds: Careers of Nonprofit Executives in an Evolving Sector

The nonprofit sector is confronting a potential leadership deficit and mounting pressures to become more efficient and businesslike. To begin to assess how these tensions influence pathways to leadership, this study investigates the professional backgrounds and nonprofit experience of leaders in the sector. Analysis demonstrates that some leaders have management credentials and management experience, but many advance in the nonprofit sector through substantive experience alone. Even though some nonprofit executives have spent most of their careers in the public sector or the business sector, the study also demonstrates that a nonprofit ethic matters a great deal for leadership. These findings suggest that substantive experience and dedication to the nonprofit sector constitute primary pathways to leadership in the sector, raising many questions about the role of management expertise and the evolution of leadership in the sector.