Nonprofit studies is a relatively new academic field, emerging out of the policy challenges and the need for more professional nonprofit management practices of the 1970s and 1980s. This study proposes an evolutionary explanation for the field’s emergence, relying on the theoretical framework explaining the growth of scientific/intellectual movements. It argues that six driving forces favored the differentiation, mobilization, and legitimization of nonprofit studies. However, while scholarly associations and conferences, academic centers, external funders, publication opportunities, academic courses, and internationalization contributed to establishing the field within higher education, the field is challenged by tensions underlying these same six driving forces. The study suggests that the full institutionalization of the field depends on its ability to successfully overcome the tensions created by the dualisms of advocacy–research, theory–practice, and homogeneity–heterogeneity.