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Spread the love: what do new contributors appreciate the most?

After discussing with numerous contributors in our OnlyDust community, we have identified a few common themes that pop up when we ask them what they appreciated the most when they started their journey.


Emilie Blum for OnlyDust ⭐.

Sometimes, it’s not easy to know what new contributors value the most when they join an open-source project. Is it the project itself that interests them, the onboarding process or something else?

How can you as a maintainer help facilitate their transition from being a newcomer to a regular contributor?

After discussing with numerous contributors in our OnlyDust community, we have identified a few common themes that pop up when we ask them what they appreciated the most when they started their journey.

So, project leads, we’re passing on the torch to you to help make the process of contributing an easy one!

Below are three top things that contributors value the most.

Clear and comprehensive documentation

The unanimous verdict is in: contributors greatly appreciate comprehensive resources when starting out.

It may seem obvious, but unfortunately there are still lots of open-source projects out there that don’t have updated documentations, which can be quite frustrating for newbies. It’s easy to forget that not all open-source contributors come from the same background or have the same basic understandings of an ecosystem. Some that we talked to have had a complete change of career paths!

So when they find themselves lost in the complexity of new codebases or project structures, having detailed guides and documentations can be of great help.

Resources such as how to get started, where to ask for help or understanding the project’s code of conduct are deeply appreciated. It should be a given, but currently it’s also one of the most challenging things that contributors face.

Let’s do better!

Along with having detailed guidelines, a welcoming onboarding process is very much praised.

We’re proud to note that many project leads (if not all 🙂) in the OnlyDust community make sure that this is one of their priorities.

You can read all about it here regarding insights from awesome project leads in the community in what they do to cultivate a strong team.

No shocker, but having a structured onboarding process can greatly reduce the overwhelm that new members might feel when they first start contributing. This could include a step-by-step guide to setting up the development environment, a list of beginner-friendly issues to start with, or a clear explanation of the contribution process.

Not only will that help them get up to speed, but will also help you, as project lead, save time in the long run. Below is an example of a detailed guide that project Orion sends out to all newcomers:

Screenshot from Orion showing a detailed guide sent to newcomers

Ranked second by contributors is the appreciation of monetary rewards for their work. We understand that not all projects can offer paid contributions, but when possible, they are a significant motivating factor, especially for those looking to contribute on a professional level. Incentives can also attract a wider, more diverse range of contributors.

But we get that it’s not always easy for open-source projects to find grants or sponsorships.

Many project leads have successfully tapped into various funding sources such as tech foundations, corporate sponsorships, and crowdfunding platforms. For instance, some have applied for grants from ecosystems such as Starknet, Ethereum or Optimism.

Those that we have discussed with confirmed that when they first started out on their open-source project, they searched for grant applications within their ecosystem or networks.

Below is an example of how projects can apply for grants via OnlyDust by just selecting their project visible on the platform, or adding their own if they are an external user.

Once you do get some funds, consider ways that you will reward contributions.

At OnlyDust, we save you from that headache by providing a very straightforward process for rewarding contributors, depending on tasks that you specify. Not only can you do that in just a few clicks, but we also allow you to reward your members in different tokens (see below)!

Photo from Only Dust website showing that project leads can reward contributors in different tokens

In the end, remember that transparency is key. Keeping your community in the loop about how funds are being used, what is rewarded and so forth acknowledges that your project is something serious.

Reachable project leads

Interaction is quite important for new contributors, especially at the beginning. Not only is it encouraging, but it can give them a sense of belonging and importance within the project.

When we asked contributors what was a challenge that they often faced in the beginning of their journey, quite a few responded that having responsive project leaders was difficult.

Contributors often highlight the importance of being able to directly communicate with those at the source. It reassures them that their contributions are recognised and that they have reliable sources for guidance and feedback.

As a project lead, being accessible doesn’t mean being available 24/7, but rather making sure that there are clear channels for communication and regular check-ins.

Luckily, in our community, we've seen how effective it is when project leads take the time to personally welcome new contributors, offer mentorship, or even just have a casual chat about the project's goals and challenges. It creates a sense of community and shows that you value their input and presence.

Whether it's through community forums, direct messaging, or scheduled Q&A sessions, your availability can significantly boost a contributor's confidence and sense of belonging.

As Dojo, an awesome project found on OnlyDust, highlights, it is important to lead by example! Always help out wherever possible. Below is an example they gave during a presentation at Starknetçç in November 2023, which illustrates how contributors are appreciative at the reactivity of project leads.

As you can see from the photo, a user thanked a project lead for their help and in turn made them happy to be part of the ecosystem.

Photo taken from Dojo's presentation at Starknetçç 2023

Another example from the community – Madara – project leads will make sure to say hello to any newcomer that joins their Telegram group and asks them how they can help and what their skill levels are in order to properly guide them further. They will also regularly have “Community Calls” to discuss the latest updates, interact with team members and share insights.

Photo taken from Starknet which shared Madara's latest community call

A collective effort

I think we can all agree that we believe that the open-source ecosystem is a powerful one and should be cared for in order for it to continue shaping the future.

It is thus important as maintainers and project leads to embrace our responsibility in making sure that we are providing an easy path for newcomers. The more, the merrier, right?

It’s a very important role, one in which is greatly appreciated when done right. So, keep doing what you do!

And remember, it’s always nice to stay available, provide updated resources and just overall be helpful.

A little kindness can go a long way 😉!

OnlyDust is a platform that helps connect developers with the most exciting open-source projects. The added bonus? A strong community and rewards for contributions.