How to Start a Nonprofit in Tennessee?


Starting a nonprofit organization in Tennessee can seem like a daunting task, but with the right steps and preparation, it can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience. In this guide, we will outline the steps you need to take to start a nonprofit in Tennessee, including information on legal requirements, fundraising, and marketing.

Develop Your Mission and Vision

The first step in starting a nonprofit in Tennessee is to develop a clear mission and vision for your organization. Your mission should be a concise statement that defines the purpose of your nonprofit, while your vision should be a more long-term statement that describes the impact you hope to make in the community.

Conduct Research and Assess Need

Once you have a clear mission and vision, it's important to conduct research and assess the need for your nonprofit in the community. This can include conducting surveys or focus groups, researching existing nonprofits, and speaking with potential stakeholders. This research will help you understand the specific needs of the community, and identify any gaps in services that your nonprofit could fill.

Create a Business Plan

A business plan is a comprehensive document that outlines the mission, vision, and goals of your nonprofit, as well as the strategies you will use to achieve them. It should also include a detailed budget, a fundraising plan, and a marketing plan. A business plan is essential for convincing potential donors and partners of the viability of your nonprofit.

Choose a Name and Register Your Nonprofit

Once you have a business plan, it's time to choose a name for your nonprofit and register it with the state of Tennessee. To register, you will need to file articles of incorporation with the Tennessee Secretary of State's office and obtain a tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Build a Board of Directors

A strong board of directors is essential for the success of any nonprofit. This group of individuals will provide guidance and oversight for your organization, and help to ensure that it stays true to its mission and vision. When choosing board members, look for individuals with a passion for your cause, as well as relevant skills and experience.

Obtain Funding

Once your nonprofit is registered and has a board of directors in place, it's time to start fundraising. There are many different ways to obtain funding for a nonprofit, including grants, donations, and fundraising events. It's important to research different funding options and choose those that align with your mission and goals.

Develop a Marketing Plan

A strong marketing plan is essential for building awareness and support for your nonprofit. This can include developing a website, creating social media accounts, and reaching out to the media. It's also important to build relationships with other nonprofits and community organizations, as they can help to promote your cause and connect you with potential donors and volunteers.

Implement Programs and Services

Once you have funding and a marketing plan in place, it's time to start implementing programs and services. This may include offering classes, providing counseling services, or creating events to raise awareness about your cause. It's important to evaluate the impact of these programs and make adjustments as needed.

Monitor and Evaluate Your Progress

It's important to regularly monitor and evaluate the progress of your nonprofit. This may include tracking fundraising progress, surveying participants in programs, and measuring the impact of your services. This data will help you make informed decisions about the future direction of your nonprofit.

Keep Good Records

Finally, it's important to keep good records of all of your nonprofit's activities, including financial records, program evaluations , and other important documents. This will not only help you stay organized, but it will also be necessary for meeting legal and reporting requirements. Additionally, keeping good records will help you in the future when it comes to applying for grants or reporting to donors and stakeholders.


In conclusion, starting a nonprofit in Tennessee can be a challenging but fulfilling process. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can develop a clear mission and vision, conduct research and assess need, create a business plan, register your nonprofit, build a board of directors, obtain funding, develop a marketing plan, implement programs and services, monitor and evaluate your progress, and keep good records. Remember, starting a nonprofit is not an overnight process, it takes time, patience and hard work. It is also important to note that this guide is not a substitute for legal advice, it is always recommended to seek the advice of a lawyer or attorney when starting a nonprofit, they can guide you through the legal process and ensure that your organization is in compliance with all state and federal laws. With the right steps and preparation, you can start a nonprofit that makes a real difference in your community.