Role Fluidity and Emergent Followership: How Nonprofit Leaders Communicate Their Relationship as/to Followers


  • Curt A. Gilstrap Drury University
  • Ashley Morris Drury University


nonprofit, followers, emergent followership, nonprofit leadership, grounded theory, role-fluidity


Followership is integral to the growth and activity of nonprofits, yet it lacks broad investigation by organizational researchers. We assessed followership from the perspective of organizational leaders within the nonprofit sector, and this study generates an understanding of the followership concept as it relates to nonprofit membership and strategic behaviors. Based upon qualitative interviews, this study demonstrates that nonprofit leaders communicate followership as a role-fluid concept and as an emergent behavior among nonprofit members. Developing a tripartite typology of Uninvested Followers, Invested Followers, and Leader Preparation Followers, and recognizing subthemes of leader Passion, Vision, and Choice, we suggest that nonprofits need to understand followership as an organizing concept through which members emerge from leader to follower or from follower to leader dependent on strategic organizational and stakeholder needs.