How to File a Nonprofit Corporation Charter in Tennessee

Starting a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in Tennessee is easy — and the first task is filing your Nonprofit Corporation Charter. This guide will walk you through the 15 steps required to file a Nonprofit Corporation Charter to officially start a nonprofit in Tennessee.

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Getting Started

Step 1: List Your Nonprofit’s Name

The first step to filling out your Tennessee Nonprofit Corporation Charter is to list your organization’s name. If you haven’t gone through the process of establishing a name for your organization, here are the requirements for naming a nonprofit in Tennessee:

  • Your nonprofit’s name must be distinguishable from any other name on record within the state of Tennessee, including any reserved names. 
  • Your nonprofit’s name can’t include the words or phrases “bank,” “banks,” “banking,” “credit union,” or “trust” without obtaining permission from the Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions.

Recommended: For a step-by-step guide to naming your nonprofit corporation in Tennessee, read our guide on How to Name a Nonprofit in Tennessee

Search the Availability of Your Name

After selecting potential names — ideally, at least four or five — it’s important to search for their availability in your state. You can do this by conducting the four recommended searches outlined below, or use our 501(c)(3) Lookup Table.

Tennessee Business Information Search

To operate in Tennessee, a nonprofit corporation must have a unique name. You can easily check if your chosen name is available by performing a search using the Tennessee business information search tool.

Domain Name Search

We strongly recommend that you also check to see if your business name is available as a web domain (URL). Even if you don't plan to create a business website today, you may want to buy the web address to prevent others from acquiring that domain name. It’s a free search.

Find a Domain Now

Federal Trademark Search

You can easily check if someone already trademarked your chosen nonprofit name by using the federal Trademark Electronic Search System. This is important even if you don’t plan to form your nonprofit corporation right away.

Once you confirm that no one else already trademarked your chosen name, you can apply for a trademark for your nonprofit. 

Web and Social Media Search

A strong social media presence will play a key role in expanding your reach to potential donors as well as clients that will use your services. That makes it important to search the web and popular social media platforms for your desired name before registering it to ensure it’s available on all the platforms where you plan to promote your organization.

Step 2: Include Name Consent (If Applicable)

If your nonprofit corporation’s name is indistinguishable from another Tennessee business entity’s name, you may request name consent from the existing business. To indicate you received name consent from the existing business entity, check the box in this section. 

Step 3: Disclose Any Additional Designation

If an additional designation applies to your nonprofit corporation, include that designation in this section from the following options: 

  • Bank 
  • Captive Insurance Company 
  • Credit Union  
  • Insurance Company  
  • Litigation Financier 
  • Neighborhood Preservation Nonprofit Corporation  
  • School Support Organization 
  • Trust Company

Step 4: Choose a Registered Agent

A registered agent is required to file a Nonprofit Corporation Charter in Tennessee. Either an individual or a business entity with a physical address in the state may fill this role. A registered agent’s responsibilities include accepting and forwarding service of process documents for the corporation as well as serving as a point of contact for the entity.

Requirements for this section include:

  • Your registered agent’s name 
  • Your registered agent’s office address (this can’t include a P.O. Box) 
  • The county in which your registered agent’s office is located

Recommended: Using an affordable registered agent service offers many benefits. For more information on choosing a registered agent service, read our full guide.

Step 5: List Your Nonprofit’s Fiscal Year Close Month

List the month in which your nonprofit corporation’s fiscal year closes. If you choose December — the most common month for ending a fiscal year — you may either list the month here or leave this section blank. 

Step 6: Disclose Your Nonprofit’s Duration

Most incorporators form their nonprofit corporations without a specific duration in mind. If this applies to your organization, check the “perpetual” box in this section. Otherwise, check the “other” box and enter a specific end date for your corporation. 

Step 7: Choose an Effective Date for Your Filing

If you want your formation documents to take effect upon their filing, leave this section blank. Otherwise, enter an effective date and time not more than 90 days after the original filing date. 

Step 8: Confirm Various Corporate Information

In this section, check the boxes that apply to your nonprofit corporation to indicate: 

  • If your nonprofit is a public benefit or mutual benefit corporation
  • If your nonprofit is a religious or a nonreligious corporation
  • If your nonprofit will have any members 

Step 9: List Your Nonprofit’s Principal Office Address

In this section, list the complete address and county of your nonprofit corporation’s principal executive office. This can’t include a P.O. Box. 

Step 10: Provide a Mailing Address (If Applicable)

If your nonprofit corporation’s mailing address differs from its principal office address, you also must provide its mailing address.

Step 11: List Your Incorporator Information

An incorporator is any person who participates in the completion and submission of the Nonprofit Corporation Charter. List the name and business address of each incorporator in this section. At least one incorporator also must sign this formation document.

Step 12: Indicate the Type of Educational Entity (If Applicable)

If you listed an additional designation for your nonprofit as “School Organization – Exempt” in Step 3, you must check the first box in this section to certify that, pursuant to T.C.A. § 49-2-611, your nonprofit corporation is exempt from the $100 filing fee required by § 48-51-303(a)(1).

You also must then check one of the remaining two boxes to indicate your organization’s specific educational entity type from these options: 

  • This nonprofit corporation is a “school support organization” as defined in T.C.A. § 49-2-603(4)(A).
  • This nonprofit corporation is an educational institution as defined in T.C.A. § 48-101-502(b).

Step 13: Outline the Distribution of Assets Upon Dissolution

In this section, provide your nonprofit corporation’s provisions for distributing its assets upon dissolution. 

Distribution of assets upon dissolution must be for approved, tax-exempt purposes only. For more information about the requirements of dissolution and 501(c)(3) status, refer to the sixth section of the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS’) suggested language for corporations and associations.

Step 14: Provide Any Additional Provisions

In order for your nonprofit to qualify for 501(c)(3) status, you must include some additional provisions with your Nonprofit Corporation Charter. Because the Tennessee formation document doesn’t include sections related to your nonprofit’s purpose or its initial board of directors, use this section — or an attachment, if desired — to provide details on both topics. 

Describe Your Nonprofit’s Purpose 

To qualify for 501(c)(3) status, your nonprofit’s purpose must include one or more of the following characteristics: 

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

Name Your Initial Board of Directors

To qualify for 501(c)(3) status, your nonprofit also must have at least three directors. When drafting this additional provision, you should include the name and address of each initial director.

For a complete guide to forming your nonprofit’s board of directors, read our How to Develop a Board of Directors for a Nonprofit in Tennessee article.

Step 15: File Formation Documents

You can file your Tennessee Nonprofit Corporation Charter in three ways: online, by mail, or in person.

File the Tennessee Nonprofit Corporation Charter

OPTION 1: File Online With the Tennessee Business Services Online Portal

File Online

- OR -

OPTION 2: File Form SS-4418 by Mail or In Person

Download Form

Fee: $100

Filing Address:
Secretary of State 
6th FL – Snodgrass Tower, ATTN: Corporate Filing 
312 Rosa L. Parks Avenue 
Nashville, TN 37243

Note: If you listed an additional designation for your nonprofit of “School Organization – Exempt” in Step 3, you aren’t required to pay the $100 filing fee. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I start a nonprofit in Tennessee?

You can start a nonprofit corporation in Tennessee by filing a Nonprofit Corporation Charter with the Secretary of State by mail or online

How much does it cost to start a nonprofit in Tennessee?

Filing a Nonprofit Corporation Charter in Tennessee costs $100.

How do I find nonprofits in Tennessee?

Use our handy Tennessee 501(c)(3) Lookup Table to find nonprofits in Tennessee. You can use this tool to see if your preferred nonprofit name is in use or not.

Tennessee Nonprofit Quick Links

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