DAO Essentials: 6 Key Onboarding Practices
0xEC46
December 22nd, 2021

This post was written by Kassen Qian. Thanks to DAO Masters contributors Tyler Whittle, Behzod Sirjani, Nelson Jordan, and Angela Santurbano for their edits and revisions, as well as Jocelyn Hsu from Editorial Team!

You show up for work, and there are ten strangers hanging around in your (virtual) office. One says they know all about you and want to work with you, and a few others are asking if they can take a look around. How would you feel? Excited? Terrified? Like it’s time to get a new job?

In all seriousness, in this new world of DAOs, organizational boundaries become permeable and contributors can show up from anywhere. How are DAOs handling the deluge of interest from the vibrant crypto community and beyond? The process of onboarding new members is one that requires investment and thoughtful design. When done right, it can establish the foundation for a sustainable and scalable community. On the other hand, when onboarding is implemented poorly, a DAO can quickly fall apart due to lack of context, coordination, and focus.

Here at DAO Masters, we wanted to capture the progress DAOs are making with respect to onboarding and share our learnings with the broader web3 community. The goal of this report is not to critique the status quo based on what a DAO should or shouldn’t be, but to share observations of how these DAOs are onboarding members.

We interviewed core contributors spearheading experiments in onboarding and community building at DAOs with strong social and cultural components1:

Our conversations focused on understanding:

  1. The new member onboarding experience
  2. The relationship between new member onboarding and contributor onboarding

While each of these DAOs is unique—each has their own tech stack, and some are token-gated or application-gated while others aren’t—there are common threads in how they approach onboarding. After compiling, transcribing, and analyzing our interviews, we aggregated their insights into six main takeaways for community-oriented DAO onboarding practices.

Learnings

TL;DR

  1. Establish a clear mission & vision for the DAO
  2. Design new member onboarding with contributors in mind
  3. Facilitate 1:1 connections, especially early on
  4. Invest in education and resources
  5. Accommodate for different levels of knowledge and experience
  6. Preempt scalability challenges, especially pertaining to quality of work and “offboarding”

1. Establish a clear mission & vision for the DAO

“If you know what you want to achieve, then you know the kind of people you want to onboard.” - Lucas Pontes, Fingerprints DAO

Articulating the purpose of the DAO in an exciting and enticing way is paramount to attracting new community members. Those onboarding to the DAO should very clearly understand what the DAO is trying to accomplish and how they can fit in under the context of that overarching goal.

Recently, we’ve seen new DAOs spinning up by the day; according to DeepDAO, there are at least 1.7 million DAO members and token holders. Someone wanting to get involved in DAOs may try to join and contribute to as many communities as possible; however, this strategy can quickly become overwhelming, and the value they receive out of each DAO can diminish rapidly. A clear mission and vision will allow potential new members to quickly determine which DAOs they align with and are most excited to participate in.

This clarity is beneficial for DAOs looking for members and contributors as well—a clear purpose attracts people who are the right fit for the community, while also filtering out those who aren’t. This is especially important in the context of a bull market, when a popular reason for joining DAOs is token speculation.

Communicating a shared purpose helps to set expectations for participation and fosters organizational health. As opposed to being everything to everyone, a DAO needs to understand what drives its community and serve that community well in accordance with its mission. This first step lays the foundation for a strong community ethos, which facilitates natural growth. A DAO’s first wave of community members, who, if passionate about the mission and vision of the DAO, will help to scale and grow the community beyond the founders and initial core contributors.

2. Design new member onboarding with contributors in mind

Having a consistent vehicle for reputation is important; having that tied to a real name is less important.” - Jon Hillis, Cabin DAO

It seems simple, but the way new member onboarding is designed heavily influences contributor onboarding. Almost every single DAO contributor has been a new member at some point! What does it mean to chart a path for new members to eventually become active contributors? Do you want every new member to contribute in some way? How big is too big when it comes to DAO size?

The DAOs we spoke to addressed these questions differently. Some thought about this path in a linear fashion: new members join, start contributing with one working group, and follow increasing levels of depth with established tasks and units of work. Others think about the process as a tree, where there are multiple ways to contribute through different working groups with differing levels of involvement.

Regardless of the exact structure, many agree that:

  1. Ways to contribute should be made clear to all members
  2. Expectations for contribution should be clearly communicated
  3. There should be low-stakes ways to contribute

Many of these DAOs find that there are a lot of people interested in stepping up and contributing, but they are not sure how and where―it’s a problem of both education and fit. Ways to address this can include designating specific working group or project area representatives to be known points of contact for potential contributors and having working group or project updates in public meetings and town halls. Transparency helps to remove roadblocks for those who are eager to contribute.

Additionally, many DAOs have seen that active, engaged contributors who end up in formal contributor roles are often those who spend time in working groups or particular areas of the DAO for a period of time beforehand, just without a formal contributor role. These are people who have identified their niche within the DAO after they join and have built a reputation as someone who knows what’s going on and can be a reliable contributor already. The path to becoming a highly involved contributor can and should be inclusive of those who are pseudonymous.

While there are many options for implementation, we recommend you design your onboarding process in a way that is clear, transparent, and accessible to all new members. 

3. Facilitate 1:1 connections, especially early on

“For social DAOs especially, 1:1 connections are really important. It helps new members feel comfortable with the community they’re joining.” - Nichanan Kesonpat, Meta Gamma Delta

Joining a DAO can be overwhelming; a constant struggle for DAOs bringing on new members is providing context around who is doing what. A direct 1:1 conversation with a current team member provides a space for new members to ask questions, share their interests, and discuss what it would mean to get involved. This tailored onboarding is especially helpful for new members who feel more comfortable in smaller environments.

1:1 connections are beneficial for the DAO as well.They help ensure that new members are aligned with the DAO’s purpose and create a stickiness factor for member retention and engagement. Additionally, DAO instigators have a better understanding of who could be the best fit contributors to specific projects.

Conducting a 1:1 call with each new member is manual and difficult to efficiently scale, but it’s a worthy investment into the community. It allows context and culture to disseminate past the core contributors to other active members of the DAO. This can evolve into a peer-to-peer process over time as more members understand what’s going on.

As these DAOs grow in size, they’re taking different approaches to scale these 1:1 conversations:

  • Mentor/buddy system: Each new member is paired with a currently active member of the community
  • Cohort-based onboarding: Each new cohort is a part of a “class” and accomplishes projects or tasks together as a form of bonding
  • Task checklists: Each new member must complete a small list of tasks (eg. introducing themselves, joining a community call, completing a bounty, and/or messaging a core contributor)

These are just examples of onboarding as a method of creating a support network for new members—once a DAO reaches the size where not everyone knows everyone, it’s important for new members to find their niche in terms of both interests and other people.

These may not be the fastest ways to initially grow a community, but we believe the resulting curation of the community in terms of culture fit and engagement is worth the effort (high “member-purpose fit”).

4. Invest in education and resources

“Have a wiki or a map of the space—create a graphic. Having more resources that people can access is really important.” - Nicole d’Avis, Seed Club

A lot of DAOs tend to move extremely quickly. New people, projects, structures, and tools are surfacing at a rapid pace. Adequate documentation of knowledge and processes can help new members orient themselves in the community, understand how to get involved, and stay involved. These resources are very useful when provided in tandem with new member programming.

Members should stay educated and updated on important and relevant information. However, it’s up to the DAO to make sure that this process is as frictionless as possible. Depending on the DAO’s structure, the DAO can facilitate this by identifying the right cadence of information-sharing, both synchronously (recurring calls) and asynchronously (messaging, recordings, meeting notes, etc). This not only fosters cross-team collaboration and communication within DAOs, but also makes governance efforts easier.

For DAOs that are token-gated, determining the right levels of access to certain groups and channels is critical. Not every new member has to have write access or a formal avenue of contribution to the DAO, but making the DAO’s progress visible and transparent can incentivize and increase general engagement.

5. Accommodate for different levels of knowledge and experience

“We’re attracting a lot of people for whom this is their first touchpoint with web3 and crypto.” - Mario Lopes, Krause House DAO

Each person who onboards to a DAO will have different levels of web3 knowledge, contributing experience, and comfort levels. A clear mission and vision can help to attract people at similar levels, but ultimately, onboarding processes should accommodate for differences among these new members (to the extent of the DAO’s intended target audience).

Being intentional with the details here is key: what kind of language and terminology is used to introduce new members to the DAO? How many steps are there to the onboarding process, and do they involve Discord bots or wallet transactions? How does the onboarding process hold up against someone who doesn’t have a lot of time or prior interest, versus someone who does?

A process that is inclusive of people coming in with different amounts of knowledge and experience is also a process that will make room for different paths to contribution and engagement based on each individual’s unique skills, interests, and availability. Availability is especially important to keep in mind, because the status quo is that many DAO members and contributors split their time across many communities. DAOs should allow for the exploration and cross-pollination of ideas and people across projects and communities. By doing so, they can attract and create diverse communities that tap into individuals’ unique backgrounds and experiences.

6. Preempt scalability challenges, especially pertaining to quality of work and “offboarding”

“The consequences are very unforeseen. We're all guinea pigs—this may work, this may not. We're all learning together.” - Jay, Forefront

As DAOs grow in size, issues around coordination start to arise. When there are many members who are working on different projects and initiatives, who should make sure the quality of work meets the standard of the DAO’s mission and ethos?

It’s a common saying that anyone should be able to contribute in the ways that they want, but this flexibility and permissionlessness must be guided by some form of structure to ensure internal alignment and operational efficiency. Because the communities we deem as DAOs still have people at the center, this structure is going to be more human than machine.

Structure is especially important in instances when members don’t follow community guidelines or aren’t aligned with the DAO’s mission and operations. Core contributors rely on guardrails to “offboard” members in these instances, and they’ve shared that it’s easier to do when guardrails are created and implemented early on. Without them, offboarding only becomes more difficult as the community scales, leading to suboptimal resolutions.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, DAOs are organizations. As with any organization, there must be a strategy and process in place for how people join a DAO, learn about it, and utilize resources to achieve certain goals.

Web3 as a whole moves very quickly, and DAOs are no exception. We sought to talk to some of the brightest minds in the DAO space to uncover best onboarding practices, and although these DAOs are constantly improving their processes, patterns have already emerged. We hope these six takeaways can help guide you toward creating a strong onboarding experience for your DAO.

At DAO Masters, we have recently redesigned our onboarding process based on these findings and our own intuition. If you are interested in learning more about how to apply these findings to your own DAO, we’d love to help! Feel free to drop us a line with your questions here, or hop into our Discord to learn alongside us!


Special thank you to the handful of DAO instigators and core contributors who shared their experiences and knowledge with us: Patti Hauseman (FWB), Eli (Krause House), Holly Grimm (Meta Gamma Delta), and all those quoted above! All quotes in this piece are used with permission.

  1. While DAOs have been defined to have automation at the center, we believe that human-centric DAOs as we know them today must be studied in order to understand how humans will play a role in the evolution of DAOs over time. Additionally, the social and cultural side of web3 (as it relates to not only DAOs, but other applications of blockchain technology) will play a large role in taking web3 and crypto mainstream. Thus, it’s worth examining how onboarding to these web3 communities is done in the status quo.
Arweave TX
gpWOpwyRjr5kcpzBcvgzg0H8pZCjCA5lgZ3_JJmLwHk
Ethereum Address
0xEC469A531EecDbba950c831268cc5a0370645638
Content Digest
YNr-PuwUgp9LoK6xlrHhLlfKKo2GHzR8g00wBnfhQbc