Empowering Contributors: How DAOs Can Improve the Onboarding Experience

I started DAOing my way in this space last year. I’ve spent the better part of the last decade in the media and tech space, so naturally media web3 conversations had me feeling excited about what was to come. I kept hearing the name of a particular media DAO in conversations, to the point where I was intrigued and excited. A few weeks later, thanks to getting connected to an editor there, I began writing for them. That was the start of a fascinating journey I started immersing myself in. A few months later, I was actively contributing to multiple DAOs, and a passive member of a couple more. Being an active community builder and researcher intuitively, I’ve been reflecting over different aspects of DAOs. Today, I’m going to touch on onboarding, its significance, and how we can improve it.

Joining a new DAO can be kind of daunting – you feel like the new kid on the block all over, and there’s likely a ton of context and depth you’re missing. Out of all the DAOs I’ve been a part of, only one had a steward reachout and properly “welcome” me into the community. It’s interesting because there’s definitely parallels we can draw between web2 and web3 orgs, but more so there’s things we can implement that have worked well in web2. Oftentimes, in the chaos of operations, onboarding gets missed out on, and folks are left feeling in the dark. The sink or swim analogy is one I’ve heard tons of contributors share. They feel like they’ve got to make the best of what they got, and it can sometimes subtly transpire to a weird survival of the fittest culture. This is also because power dynamics and politics play differently in DAOs, and as much as I love DAOs because of their radically different structure, I am beginning to realize how it can also be equally messy. New contributors can often feel isolated in DAOs for a multitude of reasons: not having 1x1 time with other DAO members, not feeling connected, and not knowing what’s going on in other workstreams. 

Thankfully, the solutions don’t need to be out of this world. Here are a few we can empower contributors and improve the onboarding experience in DAOs. 

  • Work on Cs (Community, Culture, and Content) and make them a part of onboarding

Work on DAO Cs (Community, Culture, and Content). Not the idealistic Cs, but the realistic ones. Every DAO has a different culture – what are ways  people communicate, how do folks go to “bond”, and what’s okay/not recommended? What are values of the community, and what are absolute no-nos? What are ways the contributor can connect with and get to know the community? Are there events and accessible cal invites? How do they nurture 1x1 connections with other contributors? These are a few questions that can make it easier for a person to navigate their new space. Start with a draft, and don’t hold back on adding personality to it. It’s one thing to say y’all like having “fun” in the DAO, and a completely different thing to have fun with the content and comms.

  • Make a solid onboarding document that you update every week.

Some DAOs have excellent documentation and content but it's often outdated, which makes it a bit redundant vs. if it wasn't. Another issue I’ve experienced is because there’s content spread across multiple platforms, there’s often this idealism that at some point it’ll all be consolidated on one, and that’s when a proper documentation and content system can be fleshed out. It’s a well-intentioned hope that often leads to messy organization. So, having a document that literally links everything and adds context can make a world’s difference. The point is for people to have access and to utilize the content regardless of where it sits online. Create a comprehensive onboarding document that is updated regularly, and make sure it is easily accessible to all new contributors. This document should include the Cs you previously worked on, and should have links to all relevant resources and documentation.

Plan for all scenarios, and one that I’ve often experienced is when folks don’t have time for onboarding calls. One way you can tackle this is to have a group onboarding, but if that’s not an option either – make the onboarding document “dummy” proof. Make it the clearest, easiest walkthrough the contributor has ever had. 

How do you do this? Write everything, step to step, so even a seventh grader reading the document would be able to follow instructions. You can use this document during the actual walkthrough call too, but in instances where you’re unable to give one, sharing this onboarding doc is the handiest thing you can do. Being efficient is key in getting folks situated, and so speed is of essence. Get them the walkthrough, and schedule a call to checkin and go through any questions. Equipping contributors for success is important, and smooth onboarding is a part of that. 

  • Organize contributor hours and schedule them in. 

Now that they’ve gotten a better understanding of the DAO, invite them to an event where they can break the ice, and get to know other contributors or members. It can be as simple as having a few prompt questions and breakout rooms for each group over an hour-long call. You can switch up the questions and make it more fun with different angles and themes if you really want to get into it. But having a contributor hour and event makes people connect and bond. It tackles the feeling of isolation and not knowing others. Folks may sometimes be more introverted or shy, and so create rituals that make it easy for everyone to bond and build relationships. 

  • Communicate how compensation and processes work

Talk about finances and getting compensated is one most folks shy away from. The unfortunate reality is over time it can build up resentment because people feel like there’s a lack of transparency, and they’ve got questions that pile on. I’ve noticed most times it's not because the core members are trying to hide anything or are being intentionally vague about comp – they’re just often so busy in the day-to-day or hyper focused on the latest and greatest project, that they miss out on this. To avoid miscommunication or lack of, I recommend explaining compensation and any processes around it during onboarding. Explain how payments are requested, how the budget and decision making process is, what timelines typically look like, and how they can participate in it. Ideally have an organized way of getting all the details you need by using a form or something similar, so it’s easier to take care of later on. Being proactive in your approach, just builds trust in transparency in the long run. 

  • Create a mentor-pairing or buddy-pairing system

Having a 1x1 relationship, especially as you’re getting to know others and getting comfortable can make the biggest difference for contributors. You can rotate between members in the DAO and pair them with new contributors. People often hold back from asking simple questions because they don't want to come off as “stupid”, so having a go-to person for questions in an individual setting can be really comforting. 

  • And finally, keep track of the onboarding process and get feedback on it

This could be a quarterly thing, but get feedback from new contributors to figure out what you can improve. Remember, onboarding isn’t a rigid process. Keep it improving and evolving as you figure out what works better and what doesn’t. The most important point is for all this to be useful, and usable. 

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