How to Form a Nonprofit in Tennessee

Two people forming a nonprofit in Tennessee

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Starting a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in Tennessee is easy, just follow these easy steps:

If you’ve been thinking about starting a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in Tennessee, you have come to the right place. We have developed this comprehensive guide to help you not only start a nonprofit in Tennessee, but also make it successful. 

In this guide, you’ll find everything you need about starting your Tennessee nonprofit, including information on how to name your nonprofit, file Nonprofit Corporation Charter and how to apply for IRS tax-exempt status. Just follow these 8 easy steps below:

Step 1: Name Your Tennessee Nonprofit
Step 2: Appoint a Tennessee Registered Agent
Step 3: Select Your Board Members and Officers
Step 4: File the Tennessee Nonprofit Corporation Charter
Step 5: Draft Bylaws and Conflict of Interest Policy
Step 6: Conduct an Organizational Meeting
Step 7: Get an EIN
Step 8: Applying for Exemption from Federal (501(c)(3) status) and State taxes

Step 1: Name Your Tennessee Nonprofit

The name you select for your nonprofit will establish its brand. It is the first thing most people will learn about your organization. It is important to pick a name that both aligns with your mission and follows the rules for naming in your state.

Tennessee Nonprofit Naming Guidelines

You can read the official guidelines for the complete rules on naming a Tennessee based organization. 

To learn more, read our How to Name a Nonprofit in Tennessee guide.

Is the Website Domain Name Available?

If you plan to have a website for your organization, you will want to make sure that a suitable URL is currently available on GoDaddy.

You may want to buy any URLs you are interested in, to make sure they are available when you are ready to finalize and create your website.

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After registering a domain name, consider setting up a professional email account (@yourcompany.com). Google's G Suite offers a business email service that comes with other useful tools, including word processing, spreadsheets, and more. Try it for free

Step 2: Appoint A Tennessee Registered Agent

A nonprofit corporation in Tennessee is required to have a registered agent with a Tennessee address.

What is a Registered Agent? A registered agent is an individual or business entity responsible for receiving important legal documents on behalf of your business. Think of your registered agent as your business' point of contact with the state.

Learn more about registered agents.

Incfile provides the first year of registered agent service free with nonprofit formation ($49 + State Fees)

To learn more, read our Tennessee Registered Agent guide.

Step 3: Select Your Board Members and Officers

The directors of a nonprofit are responsible for overseeing the operations of the organization. The directors come together to form a board.

The officers of a nonprofit (such as the president or the secretary) are individuals with responsibilities, and the authority to execute based on their job descriptions.

Together, the officers and the board will come together to make up the organizational structure of your nonprofit.

The organization structure of your nonprofit in Tennessee MUST include:

  • At least 3 directors not related to each other
  • A president
  • A secretary 

NOTE: The president and secretary positions cannot be held by the same person. 

To learn more, read our Tennessee Board of Directors guide.

Step 4: File the Tennessee Nonprofit Corporation Charter

To become a nonprofit corporation in Tennessee you must file the Nonprofit Corporation Charter with the State of Tennessee. 

In order to qualify for 501(c)(3) status, the organization’s purpose must explicitly be limited to one or more of the following:

  • Charitable
  • Religious
  • Scientific
  • Literary
  • Testing for public safety
  • Fostering national/international amateur sports competition
  • Preventing cruelty to animals/children

You will need to mail the following to the Secretary of State:

Secretary of State’s office at 6th FL – Snodgrass Tower 
ATTN: Corporate Filings 
312 Rosa L. Parks Avenue 
6th Floor 
Nashville, TN 37243-1102

 To learn more, read our guide on How to File the Tennessee Nonprofit Corporation Charter.

Step 5: Draft Bylaws and Conflict of Interest Policy

There are two documents that will be central to the running of your nonprofit:

Bylaws: These are the rules that determine how your organization will be governed and run.

Conflict of Interest Policy: These are the rules set to ensure that decisions being made for the nonprofit are based on what is best for the organization, and not being motivated by what is best for individuals.

Learn more about how to write bylaws for your nonprofit

Step 6: Conduct an Organizational Meeting

An organizational meeting is the first official meeting of your nonprofit! Some of the things that are discussed in a typical organizational meeting:

  • Taking attendance to show you have a quorum (minimum number needed)
  • Appointing temporary officers, chairmen, secretaries, etc.
  • Adoption of the bylaws
  • Adoption of conflict of interest policy

Don’t forget to record “minutes” of the meeting and have it signed by all attending directors. Here are some corporate minutes templates to help you get the ball rolling.

Step 7: Get an EIN

An EIN or Employment Identification Number (also called a Federal Tax Identification Number or Federal Employment Identification Number), is used to uniquely identify a business entity. You can think of the EIN as a social security number for your nonprofit.

The EIN is required for your organization whether or not it will have any employees.

To learn more, read our guide on how to get your EIN.

Step 8: Applying for Exemption from State and Federal Taxes (501(c)(3) status)

Applying for Exemption from Federal Taxes:

A nonprofit may be eligible for 501(c)(3) status only if its purpose is limited to one or more of the following:

Charitable, Religious, Scientific, Educational, Literary, Fostering national/international amateur sports competition, Preventing cruelty to animals/children, Testing for public safety

 Before a nonprofit can apply for 501(c)(3) status it must: 

  • Elect at least 3 directors not related to each other
  • Register as a nonprofit with the state
  • Adopt the bylaws and conflict of interest policy  
  • Have an EIN number

Once these four conditions have been met your nonprofit can apply for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status by filing Form-1023 online.

If your application is approved, the IRS will send you a determination letter stating that your organization is exempt from federal taxes under section 501(c)(3).

To learn more, read our guide on How to File Form 1023-EZ

Applying for Exemption from State Taxes:

Your nonprofit corporation will not need to pay

  • Corporate income tax
  • State franchise tax
  • Excise tax

To be exempt from state sales tax you must apply to the Tennessee Department of Revenue

Once you have formed your Tennessee nonprofit, we recommend you read our guide on How To Protect your Tennessee Nonprofit and Keep It Compliant.

State of Tennessee Nonprofit Quicklinks