Getting a letter of recommendation is one of the most effective ways to impress potential employers. Job references like these are a big part of what it takes to really sell yourself to an organization. Asking for a recommendation from one of your former colleagues can be a harrowing task: What if they say no? This is one of the natural fears you will have to battle through if you want to get that reference.
You should remember that the person you ask for a recommendation should be someone who knows you very well. While it might seem impressive to give an employer a recommendation from one of the head honchos at your previous company, they probably won't be able to write a very good letter for you if they didn't work with you much. A good person to ask would be your supervisor, as they would know the most about you as an employee. They should be more than happy to recommend you to another organization as long as you made a good impression with them.
What should you do if you are just getting out of college and don't have much (if any) work experience? In this situation, getting a letter of recommendation from a professor will suffice. You should choose a teacher who knew you best, just like an employee reference. It would be helpful if this teacher taught a subject that is relevant to the nonprofit job you are applying to.
Choosing someone to get a letter of recommendation from is the easiest part of this whole process. The hard part comes when you have to ask them. It's not as simple as just asking "can you write a letter of recommendation for me?" You should specifically ask this person if they think they know you well enough to right a good reference for you. You should also explain what the job is that you are applying for, so they have a good idea of which of your strengths they should emphasize in the letter. If it is a marketing job, for instance, they will want to explain what makes you the best candidate for that kind of job.
After you get the letter from your reference, you should write them a thank you note. You should also keep them updated on whether or not you got the job or not. Even if you don't get it, you should thank them again. This will make it more likely for them to write you another recommendation if you need it again. Remember, being polite costs nothing.