DAOs are unlike traditional companies and have enabled the emergence of an entirely new labor model through the fluidity of collaboration, flexibility for contributors and are co-creation by design. In fact for those wanting to work within a DAO, this brings in an entirely new type of awareness around ‘work’, built on trust created between members and what resources are available to spend. However while a utopian vision for the future of work through them exists, their fluid nature and insecurity of DAOs can make it hard to retain consistent talent to drive them forward.
For countless builders as well as the contributors themselves, this pressure can cause a major ‘problem’ known as contributor churn.
We see Contributor churn as the process of active contributors moving on to another opportunity and leaving a space within the operations of your community. It’s trickiest in the early stages of building while the community is still finding its Community Market Fit and unlocking resources.
In this piece we’ll explore how while contributor churn is challenging, it can also be an untapped opportunity…
Let’s dive in.
While DAOs usher in a new paradigm of labor that allows for more flexibility, and where contributing openly to multiple orgs at once is perfectly acceptable, it can also lead to bandwidth being stretched leading to DAO ghosting; where notifications are turned off and DAOs placed into forgotten folders.
We see this across squads, direct messages, town halls, and active projects as life, work, and other priorities get in the way of the DAOs microcosm of activity (and it's perfectly reasonable that they should in this new labor model).
DAO ghosting is not a criticism of this behavior. More of a reflection of when members fall below an unspoken Minimum Viable Expectation (MVE) for contribution within a community.**
**Minimum Viable Expectation is the determined minimum level of contribution which a Community would ask for being a ‘member’. It could be time based, for example 1 hour, impact based e.g providing a service or financial based, e.g holding 70 $TOKENS or $15 a month subscription.
For small communities, establishing this threshold for MVE can be the biggest challenge and most revert to a financial MVE of contribution.
However in web3, time and bandwidth are contributors' most precious resources, and opportunity costs are soaring. Understanding opportunity costs is seeing contributors as investors with their time and energy, and acknowledging what they choose to spend their time on today could change it forever.
That's why communities need to set realistic and achievable goals but ambitious enough for consistent impact. There's no one-size-fits-all solution, and each community needs to have an open and honest conversation with its members.
That's also why it's so key for new members to jump across multiple communities before finding their 'fit.' and why finding consistent contributors can be the hardest task for any community, ultimately, causing momentum to fail because of it.
When it comes to finding a solution, the goal is not to involve contributors in every project but to have a strong enough culture for them to join at any stage, and create places for them to offer value and work on tasks that inspire them.
To get to this, we believe there are three powerful and undervalued opportunities:
What does it mean to be a member of a DAO?
In the current state of DAOs, for many, it's just signing up for a newsletter or buying a ticket to a show, neither of which demands participation. In fact, very few DAOs explicitly outline what's expected of contributors joining the community, and we believe this could be a problem.
For emerging communities, it means they're not having the tough, honest conversations regarding what's needed and expected from a member's precious bandwidth as well as what they can hope to get in return. Not having this conversation fails to set a tangible, realistic goal -- being able to allocate time to be active in a DAO as part of their lifestyle.
NOTE: This doesn't mean daily participation -- this isn't an old world model of labor, but instead about creating the maximum possible agency and autonomy that fits a member.
But given that bandwidth is everything in web3, what is the minimum viable expectation for your community?
For RADAR this is an MVE of 1 hour a week. It doesn't even have to be 1 hour of time. It can have an hour value of impact. It could be turning up to a town hall, attending a squad event, or sharing signals on the Discord. It could be making a connection that would have taken someone hours to find or deliver a task as part of a group where you are the missing piece.
Because having a clear MVE between the community and the member allows them to transition into an active contributor easily, it allows for better leaders to emerge.
It also allows for high-value contributors to spend their time wisely, creating a specific opportunity for them to contribute on a focus and making space for them to deliver that with the trust of a 1-1.
Minimal Viable Expectation forces people to say "no" to being part of your community. And this is how you foster a strong community - by creating a space for anyone, not for everyone.
It may be a bit unintuitive, but by restricting access only to those willing to put in thoughtful work, members will become increasingly willing to put in more bandwidth as they achieve great things together as equals. This is a powerful untapped truth for creating belonging within any community.
On the other hand, in situations where there's no MVE for restricting access to the community it can lead to the possibility of ghost members, who add to the member count but are unlikely to contribute and bring value over the long term. It actually creates a distance between those who contribute and those who don’t and it leads to a lack of Networked Responsibility in who shows up and where.
Another solution to Contributor churn is networked responsibility - meaning contributors have responsibility for nurturing and cultivating their own sub-communities, and a way of degating responsibility from one member to another through bonds of trust.
While we say a lot that DAOs don't have a leader, we know they aren't leaderless, in fact, a healthy community will have many leaders. In a DAO, being a leader doesn't mean having control, it means instigating work, carrying responsibility, and making space for others to lead their own sub-groups and further build the network.
That's where the DAO structure is truly powerful. Few people enjoy unwarranted scrutiny, and plenty of research supports the positive outcomes that autonomy inspires.
To stop contributor churn at an early stage, it's about creating true autonomy, belonging, ownership and feelings of voice and control. We believe that a network of responsibility is one of the most powerful tools we have to do that, and the lack of it causes a breakdown of trust and members moving on.
So when growing DAOs, think about how you can encourage this culture of responsibility in your community and leverage the DAO tools (e.g Joke DAO) at your disposal to help create sub-Daos and better governance systems.
Finally, we think a third solution for contributor churn worth exploring is Intentional churn.
Built around the question: What if contributor churn was a feature, and not a bug?
Intentional churn is an intentional transition of members who have fallen below the MVE line, no longer hold bandwidth, and are now a ghost in your DAO. This intentional off-boarding creates more space to bring in engaged members who fill that responsibility.
The purpose of intentional churn is to reach a community with a high level of contributors and a low level of lurkers.
So when thinking about intentional churn, it’s important to build a framework for off-boarding and re-onboarding members rather than excluding or punishing members. It means outlining the metrics you want to define for your MVEs and digging deeply into what behaviors you want your Community to be propagating.
We all know DAOs can be overwhelming and noisy, and keeping up is a major pressure for inactive members. Intentional churn is a solution which removes that pressure, ready to activate members meaningfully whenever they have the capacity through re-onboarding journeys that bring them up to context.
Following this thinking, we’ve been exploring some scenarios which facilitated the ideas of MVE, networked responsibility and intentional churn.
That's a question we're asking ourselves as part of what it means to be a RADAR member. RADAR is built on cycles that resonate and speak to different types of contributors in the Discover, Incubate and Deliver process.
Encouraging and incentivizing members to opt back in every cycle proactively reinforces what it means to be a member, whether financial or social, and it also means members can make space and show up for contributing where it fits their area of expertise, whether that's research, ideation or building.
In this speculative model, it could be as simple as creating a new HQ (discord server). Allowing those active members to transition easily through while others intentionally get left behind until later down the line. This process brings to the forefront the most engaged contributors while still keeping the community small.
We’re often so focused on onboarding new members, that we in fact forget to check on the current ones…ultimately leading to contributor churn. For us, re-onboarding inactive members is undoubtedly one of the biggest missed opportunities within communities today.
So how do you do it? It’s insanely simple.
Off-boarding is a powerful opportunity to take into account the reason why the member can’t engage as well as the context around who they are and what they're passionate about, this can be built into the re-onboarding process that should be consistently updated.
Off-boarding is an untapped process of lovingly challenging the expectations that both communities or members should exist indefinitely. Instead, it's about focusing on transitional opportunities to engage and re-engage where it matters.
Intentional churn is a superpower. At the beginning of this essay, we mentioned how we often talk about contributor churn as being negative. But we're not sure it is. Contributor churn is an opportunity to think of better ways to re-engage members or create space for new members, ultimately leading to more value creation.
It reduces the noise for those who don't have the bandwidth and creates stronger networks of responsibility with higher levels of delivery and mutual trust for those deciding to contribute. It allows a community to not only bring in high-quality members to the community but consistently do this over a period of time.
The key is creating clear context and inspiration for those who are optionally off-boarded to re-onboard in an active decision at a time that suits their bandwidth.
For those investors and token holders outside of the community, we believe this signals even more intentional membership about what it means to be a member and powers the token's value rather than a bloated pseudo-membership community.
If you want to explore more concepts and ideas on what the future of community, and just about everything else will looks like…make sure you apply to the RADAR Community and subscribe to the newsletter for more.