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  • Ann Brody

How to Effectively Onboard New Contributors - A Guide for DAOs

Updated: Mar 10, 2023

#5 Governance Series

DAOs, at their utmost core, are human-run organizations, meaning that their success ultimately depends on the people who run them. It is important to ensure that you are attracting and retaining high-quality talents in order to help the DAO achieve its mission, purpose, and goals much faster and to gain a competitive advantage over the thousands of other cool and exciting projects that exist. One way to accomplish this is through a well-designed onboarding process, something that many DAOs currently lack, but for good reasons.

Onboarding is the key

Onboarding new contributors can be a high-energy consuming process both for newcomers trying to navigate through the chaos of a DAO, and experienced contributors who have to juggle between orienting others and keeping up with their own tasks and responsibilities. It is thus common for new contributors to eagerly show up at a DAO, only to quickly drop off a few days or weeks later due to a lack of clear guidelines.

The DAO contributor — Ground 0

As someone who has both experienced being a new contributor (and has onboarded new folks to a DAO), I can easily say that it is common for DAOs to unleash the feeling of imposter syndrome.

For example, the first interaction with a DAO usually begins with Discord — a platform that can easily invoke a feeling of overwhelm. Given that conversations and activities of the DAO naturally tend to transpire parallel to each other, it is easy to get lost amidst all the discourse and the constant distraction of the dinging notification sound. As you desperately try to sift through the different community channels to build the necessary background context — so that you can have a decent conversation with other folks in the community — the FOMO starts to kick in. Conversations are happening too fast — in real time. After two hours of painful, elaborate searches, twenty Chrome tabs open, and two cups of coffee, you still can’t locate the mission, vision, and values for the DAO. At this point you feel tired, frustrated, and ready to give up, thinking “OMG, they don’t have any documentation/mission, vision and values to guide me, how am I going to do this?”

A new contributor should never feel this way when joining a DAO, and while every DAO operates differently, there are common practices that can be adopted to avoid some of the common pitfalls of DAO onboarding.

Let’s explore a few effectively methods here:

1. Clearly articulate the mission, vision and values of the DAO

It is important to be strategic about onboarding and to onboard people who can truly help in achieving the goals and mission of the DAO. New contributors should understand what the community is trying to accomplish and how they fit into that context. Given that people don’t need a resume to participate in a DAO, entering and exiting a permissionless DAOs is pretty simple but can also be messy for the DAO. It is common for people to participate in multiple DAOs and even “shop around” until they find the community that they feel they are most aligned with. Having a clear understanding of the DAO’s purpose will allow potential contributors to determine which DAO they align with the most and where their skills can provide the most value. This clarity will also be favourable for the DAOs itself, as it will attract the right kind of people to it while filtering out mercenary capital or folks who are just in it for the air drops.

2. Document it!

Proper documentation in a DAO can do wonders for new contributors who are trying to find their way through the DAO. Context building continues to be one of the most pressing challenges in DAOs, and is what is often needed for new contributors to start actively participating in the community. With proper documentation, new contributors can build that necessary context and start contributing much faster. Not only does proper documentation mitigate the feeling of uncertainty that newcomers face in a DAO, but it will also save time and energy for existing members.

As an example, IndexCoop’s Community Handbook provides a good example of an effective onboarding guide and an Onboarding Document that walks new contributors through the basics of their organizational structure.

Onboarding steps
Onboarding steps

Another effective strategy is to ask new contributors to document their onboarding experience and/or to make a guide that can be shared later with other new contributors. Given that DAOs are in a constant state of change, it is a good idea to leave this document open for others to document their experiences and/or add new processes to ensure that the onboarding protocol is kept up to date.

3. Weekly Newsletters

Given that DAOs are always buzzing with an overwhelming amount of information and content, creating a newsletter that highlights some of the activities, events and conversation from the week can help new and even existing members stay up updated and aligned with what’s happening in the community.

4. Gamify it with Quests and Bounties

Quests and Bounties are excellent tools for onboarding new contributors. These are small tasks (first issues) that members can take on to get more familiarized with the workings of the DAO. These tasks are usually well defined in terms of scope and deliverables and some can even be verified instantly on-chain such as with the example of Rabbit Hole. Quests and bounties are effective strategies for new members to demonstrate their level of engagement and commitment to other community members in the DAO. It is a bonus if the quests enable contributors to receive credentials or some form of recognition after completing them.

As an example, Yearn has a dashboard that aggregates open issues across their code repository for contributors:

Yearn Finance open issues dashboard
Yearn Finance open issues dashboard

5. Don’t expect Discord to be the starting point for new contributors

Discord channels can be chaotic for new contributors.With all the pinned posts, generic welcome messages, and bots, people unfamiliar with the workings of Discord can easily drop off.

Don’t just add people in a Discord channel and expect them to find their way through it without any human guidance or contact. Navigating through Discord effectively is a skill in itself, so make sure you provide the necessary resources and documents that can help with this.

Cultivating a feeling of comfort and belonging from the start can easily be achieved via an internal onboarding specialist who can guide new contributors through the onboarding experience and host regular check-ins to ensure that people are getting the proper resources and support they need to succeed, which brings me to the next point…

6. Provide a good support network for new contributors

The success of new contributors will depend on the degree of support offered by the existing community of a DAO. Mentor and buddy systems are a great way to educate new contributors about the ins and outs of the DAO. Holding one-on-one conversations with new contributors can not only help build context much faster, but also allows existing members to connect new people to the relevant channels, people and tools in a much more catered fashion. Match new members with a buddy (volunteer in the community) but also make sure to reward your mentors for their work, either with bonus compensation and/or reputation credentials.

7. Create a Culture of Ownership and Empowerment

DAOs can be overwhelming for folks seeking to transition from Web2 to Web3. People coming from more traditional institutions, who might be more used to hierarchical structures and performing definitive tasks, can easily become discouraged at the start of their DAO journey. Many DAOs operate in a meritocratic way and reward self-starters who are able to navigate through the ambiguity of the DAO. This can exclude a lot of valuable people from participating in your community.

While self-management is not an inherent skill that everyone possesses, it is indeed something that can be harnessed in people with the right culture in a DAO. Community leaders can provide the necessary educational resources to cultivate an ownership mindset. This can stem from anything like book recommendations, book clubs, to educational sessions and workshops on self-management skills and even by simply encouraging others to find their sense of agency within the community.

Closing thoughts

As we transition into DeGov (decentralized governance), we will increasingly encounter new tools, protocols, and products that will support more strategic and effective onboarding practices. Web3 and DAOs are rapidly evolving and we are already starting to see common patterns and trends unfold in existing DAOs. Increasing the number of DAO contributors and retaining talent will make a considerable difference in its growth long term. The onboarding experience and the first impression sets the tone for how the interaction will unfold, so make sure you give it your best shot from the start. People will notice.

Contributor onboarding is a small piece of a large puzzle. At StableLab, we pride ourselves on guiding projects on the ins and outs of decentralized governance so they can scale faster based on proven methods, rather than losing time and resources with lengthy trial and error approaches.

If you’ve experienced the DAO onboarding journey or if you are a community builder yourself, we would love to hear your feedback! Please share your thoughts and comments below on some of the onboarding strategies that have worked for you and/or your project! Also, feel free to share this article with projects you know can benefit from these tips.

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