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To be an Elder, I imagine that there would be some form of 'appointment' by the Elders that come before you. Like...a vampire concept of royalty that passes down its secrets from generation to generation. Most vampires (in the "GFD" universe anyway) only live to be 100 to 120 years old before their sanity begins to break down. (Like Zero's, who can no longer hold his thoughts and memories together) So to survive past that age, and much further beyond it, an Elder would have to understand the secret to immortality. They would have to somehow be able to defy time itself and survive despite their age. So Elders are revered by many vampires as the 'gods' of the vampire world. They're in hiding for pretty much the same reason that Justin is. The secrets and powers that they hold are sought after by countless others who would do anything to possess what they have. Not to mention the influence and political power they have. So the Elders operate from the shadows, but they are always present.
I'd love to do an Elder story someday, but I haven't really gotten an idea that I like together yet. I guess their whole order has yet to be fleshed out. :)
Hope this answers the question!
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