All good nonprofits start off with a unique idea and a business plan

nonprofit office

You need more than passion to start a nonprofit! Before you do anything else, be prepared to:

  • Conduct research about existing nonprofits (see below for more information).
  • Be patient through the lengthy legal process for establishing a tax-exempt organization.
  • Pay fees for filing your tax-exempt status form, various licenses (state and federal), and any additional professional fees (consulting or legal).
  • Build your team of constituencies (board of directors , additional supporters, volunteers, donors, etc).


Are you sure a nonprofit is the best type of business classification for your idea? Check out these resources to learn more:


For your first step, it's important to identify the need your nonprofit might meet. We highly recommend visiting, a local database of nonprofits in Middle Tennessee.

  • Through, you can search for nonprofits of a specific type (nursing facilities, youth development, education, etc) in the “Advanced Search” section. Make sure that your idea is filling a gap in services – something that is not currently offered or provided.
    • See something similar to your own idea? Ask about opportunities to collaborate or volunteer.


If your start-up's mission does address a gap in services, we recommend moving forward by following the tips provided in these checklists:


How can CNM help you with your start-up?

  •  Attend workshops. CNM has designed several workshops specifically for start-ups: "Starting a Nonprofit Organization: What's Involved?" as well as "Nonprofit 101: Basics of Nonprofit Sector" and "Career Transition: What's It Like to Work in the Nonprofit Sector?" These classes are offered several times per year; please see below for upcoming workshops, and visit our Workshop Calendar to see all offerings.


  • Get consulting. Hire a CNM consultant for any of the following: filing your federal tax-exemption status with the IRS, filing your state tax-exemption status, create your bylaws and articles of incorporation, and creating a business plan. Contact CNM's consulting department at to get started with any of these options.


  • Join CNM. Once you have tax-exempt status, join the CNM network of over 800 organizations to access special pricing for workshops and consulting, as well as networking opportunities and special events. Click here to learn more about CNM membership.

              Contact Chelsea Hardin with membership questions.


Additional resources:



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