Volunteers are the lifeblood of many nonprofits, performing everything from ministerial office work to direct interaction with clients. Before you bring new volunteers into your nonprofit or volunteer-based organization, however, asking for at least two references can a good idea. Talking with someone who has worked with the volunteer will hopefully not only yield a positive endorsement, but will help you get to know the volunteer's strengths and weaknesses before assigning him or her to particular tasks.
If you don't feel checking everyone's references is worth your time, at least check references for any volunteer position that involves dealing with money, children, or other at-risk populations, or one that involves regularly driving a vehicle.
Ask references questions like:
After checking references, you will hopefully feel even more excited about having the volunteer assisting with your nonprofit's activities. But if something doesn't check out, you may need to either turn the person away altogether, or at least suggest a different project.
Unlike paid positions, people generally have no legal right to hold a volunteer position. As a result, organizations often have greater leeway in determining who is a good fit, as long as their criteria are not discriminatory or otherwise illegal.
For more information on working with volunteers at your charity or nonprofit, see The Volunteers' Guide to Fundraising; Raise Money for Your School, Team, Library or Community Group (Nolo).