Pact DAO Building Hyper-Local City
Marisa, Founder of Pact DAO on building NYC mutual aid and what that means for all of us
I love the Pact DAO hyper-local mutual aid model and I believe many more cities will adopt this DAO model in the future. I interviewed Marisa, founder of Pact DAO to learn more.
I had also recently spoken to someone who's involved in building a community currency for Oakland, California. So my objective with speaking to Pact DAO was also to understand if there was some cross-over learnings and if the two city-based DAOs would inform and inspire each other's work.
D: Tell me about yourself and how did you get involved with Pact DAO?
M: I'm Marisa, born and raised in New York. I started Pact, a community group turned nonprofit turned DAO in 2020. My background is in marketing. I had done pro bono marketing efforts for different non-profit organizations and grassroots groups.
The problem is charitable organizations are caught in this loop where they don't have the excess funds to market themselves. Even these larger nonprofits that do are criticized for it.
Charitable groups are held to an impossible standard that 100% of the money should be going directly to the cause.
So that's how I got involved with these grass root organizations. It was just like really helping them to get the message out there.
I used to live in the Bay Area and people would say things like, “oh man, I wish there was someone doing something about the homeless issue here.” And I'm like, “there are countless organizations in this city, but you just don't know about them.”
We started Pact to promote the grassroots organizations doing work on the ground in NYC.
At the time a lot of friends were just texting me,” hey, who should I be supporting right now?” Because you do a Google search and it's a Red Cross or something like these big mega-corporate feeling non-profits which people didn't wanna donate to.
Or there were Instagram posts like here's the top 50 grassroots organizations to be giving to and people don't know how to sort through a list of 50. Shopping for an organization to give to isn't really an intuitive experience.
So we created Pact in 2020. New York was hit very hard by the pandemic.
Pact at that time was a donation subscription service where we were promoting a different hyper-local grassroots organization each month.
We were starting to notice a few things. One was that, all of these groups, we were working with, were working to address a similar goal. Many of them were abolition forward or hosted different types of unions, like tenant unions or labor unions. And many of them were working in food justice because even in New York City, there are many pockets of food deserts. And we were starting to wonder how we can bring these groups closer together? Rather than supporting them in a kind of campaign way, how can we build a coalition with them?
Even in looking at our own setup, our company was incorporated very quickly because of the urgency of the issue. And we set up as a single-member LLC and had a US bank account. That meant that my name was on everything. And while our team was a trusted group of collaborators, we called ourselves a collective, we were running based on cooperative principles and doing our best to research what that looked like at the time.
Those were all just spoken principles.
We wanted to figure out how to make Pact something that other organizations can plug into by design and not have us be this centralized bank or passthrough because then we're just like another nonprofit and so we had explored million solutions.
We were trying to talk to lawyers and piece together some kind of solution or think about the tech we could build. And then, I came across friends that were in this web3 space that I had rejected for a while, because I was just like, “ew, crypto, this feels like hyper-capitalist. I'm not into it.”
A few friends were working on DAOs and they told me about what that looked like and multi-signature wallets and smart contracts. And we just had this aha moment of, “oh these are the tools that we were looking for. These are the tools that our organization needs to build a coalition and like scale collaboration outside of what we're doing now.
And so that was our way into web3, having this immediate need for our organization.
I hear a lot about the Oakland project and I think what they're doing is really cool. I'm excited to see how they develop. They seem like a really smart team as well. But what we're doing is something quite different.
We are not minting a token or creating a local currency for New York. What we see as a big strength in web3 are the collaboration tools.
We're doing our best to get that into the hands of organizers because there are enumerable really impactful groups in New York.
And so we're trying to build a kind of collaboration with these networks and work with the people doing the work on the ground. That's been the bulk of our focus.
D: That's great. By the way, on nonprofit marketing, charity: water, an NYC-based global nonprofit does a fabulous job. They changed the face of non-profit marketing. Before them, there were always pictures of people in despair, but they instead got happy faces and projected the positive side of getting access to water. I have big respect for charity water, they really emphasized design and visual storytelling.
And I totally agree with you on how nonprofits are punished for spending on marketing while it's so critical to creating awareness.
I’ve lived in the Bay Area too, which year were you there?
M: From 2016 to 2018, it was a pretty short thing.
D: So coming back to PACT DAO what does the donation subscription model really mean?
M: It’s recurring donations. So what we did at the time because, I'm not an engineer. We were just trying to work with the skills that our team had and get things happening quickly because of the need at the time.
We created this website where you can donate for either $3, $10, or $25 a month. We made it pretty low and accessible because there were tons of people that wanted to help. Also, it was COVID and many people had lost their jobs.
We created this really accessible donation tier so that people could be in our network - get regular updates on different protests and different things that are happening in the city. And make them feel like a part of a solution without needing to be based on them having a lot of money.
D: How did you get the word out about Pact when you started in 2020?
M: It's funny because the first iteration of Pact was literally just a website that I created for my friends who again were like texting me and being like, “where could I give?” And they had just shared that with a bunch of their friends.
And I had ended up moving $10,000 of just friends and friends of friends money. So I was like, “Okay, this needs to be automated.”
We started a monthly micro-donation model. And from there, how we got the word out, um, we tried Facebook ads for a quick second. This was all just like putting our money behind it.
Even though we were getting high click-through on Facebook Ads people need to feel a sense of trust to give something. And we were just sharing it on our personal accounts. Like friends of friends were sharing it. We had some press written about us as well from a couple of local, smaller publications or even a couple tech outlets wrote about us. And so we amassed a really good amount of support that way.
D: In 2021 you transitioned into being a DAO, which month would it be?
M: We launched our crowdfunding on Mirror in September of last year.
D: How many people were involved in the transition process from a nonprofit to a DAO
M: We have a core team of five and I think three of us were involved in the transition. Now our team fluctuates in terms of contributors because we aren't paying regular salaries or anything like that.
People contribute as they can. But I think we have about a solid, like five to six core team members now.
D: What was the thought process like? How did you decide that you should launch yourself as a DAO? What was the first thing you did to move from the nonprofit space to the DAO that declared you as a DAO?
M: Yeah, it was cool, like our personal discovery process or my personal discovery process was talking to a lot of the people in this space.
I created a Twitter account, as many people do when they get into web3.
I started following people that my friends recommended, they knew my values and what I was trying to do. They recommended a few people that have now become friends of mine, like The Blockchain Socialist, Austin, Stefen. These are all the people I followed early on. We just got talking about how they were thinking about the space and what they had been working on.
I think for us, our transition came via doing more research ourselves, putting the mirror crowdfund out there, and seeing what people thought. A lot of people were getting really excited about our vision.
Mirror was this space where this manifesto of ours was gonna live but definitely continues to grow as we are now actually operating more democratically versus like when we started.
One thing that we are continuing to do from web2 is that our donation engine continues to run and we continue to support USD contributions.
We want web3 to be a gateway and not a blocker.
Many people, including many of the organizations that we were fundraising for, when we shared with them that we were looking into web3, they were like, “ we're not interested. No thanks.”
They just had a lot of both, either negative feedback about the space or even were like how am I gonna use this? I can't pay somebody's rent with Eth. I need real USD. And so we took that feedback and again, wanted to allow everyone to participate.
So we're continuing to straddle both worlds.
D: Mirror is great. We've been looking into fundraising on Mirror too. We are publishing a book on Impact DAOs and we want to give out the digital copy totally free, so people don’t have to think twice before building in web3
But there are a lot of discussions internally at our DAO about having a hard copy and minting it on Mirror and letting people pre-order. And it makes sense. People like to hold books and maybe take the book to a park to read or on the bus. So we are looking into the Mirror mint.
And I will come back to you to learn more about the Mirror fundraise or maybe you can share it right here for everybody to learn and benefit from your learnings.
Mirror is your primary source of fundraising, right besides Gitcoin grants?
M: Yeah. We've done Gitcoin grants. But Mirror is our primary source of fundraising however we haven’t really been promoting our fundraiser much.
I think that now we've really aligned as a DAO and we have a clear vision, going into season one, we're going to get back into promoting this crowdfund as well as our traditional USD campaign on our website.
Mirror's interface is really beautiful. It helped us reach that audience in a really meaningful way at the time. They had a ton of features so it felt very seamless to do.
The only hang-up for us with Mirror crowdfunding is that the funds are tied up in the account until you decide to close it. Like you can't incrementally take funds out of the account.
D: Oh, okay! That's good to know. You can't access those funds until you reach your goal, right? Like either you shut it down or you meet that goal and then get the funds out.
Also is there a way to create an org account on Mirror or does it have to be linked to an individual account?
M: I think that they do that now, but when we launched ours, they didn't connect to multi-sig yet.
D: So yeah, That's so important. I feel like these web3 platforms are not designed for DAOs (orgs) yet. Like I was looking into another fundraising platform for another DAO that I was volunteering with and we wanted to have the multi-sig connected to the campaign. But the process was that we needed to connect an individual wallet first, create the profile, and then manually get it changed.
You posted your pitch on Mirror as a blog post?
M: We have it as a crowdfund. So there's crowd entries, and a couple of other ways to raise. The crowdfund is where you can do something like an NFT collection.
D: Are you doing like an NFT collection on Mirror then?
M: Our crowdfund does have NFTs and all the NFTs I support as well are not like speculative art NFTs, they're just beautiful donation receipts. Like membership cards to our DAO but we do have NFTs attached to the crowdfund.
D: So people then mint your article by paying for it and then it belongs to them. Like they're part of it now.
M: They collect the NFT, yes.
D: So the folks who’ve minted your NFT are you thinking of ways to engage them in your organization?
M: Yeah, like we have discord and so when somebody purchases our NFT, they get invited into our discord, and the same with if they subscribe for $3 a month.
We don't have this incredibly high barrier to being a part of our community. So once you're in our discord they can be part of our team calls which are in the open channel in our discord. So you can hear what our team is talking about. We host a lot of events. We put documents out for feedback. I'm actually about to share the season one draft with our community next week to see what they think. And yeah, it starts to feel more and more collaborative.
D: That's right. Discord is such a great platform. I know it's web2, but it is so good. Especially like I've also worked in the nonprofit sector and I understand the game. With the DAO model donors can now be glued to what's happening within the organization. Otherwise, donors are left out.
Once you take the money, you just share quarterly or annual reports and that's it. And I feel like many times donors want to be part of the process, like what's going on because they're invested in the cause they've actually put their money behind it.
Also, Discord is like a virtual office, anyone can come in and check out your org, participate if they want to, or quietly observe. It's such a great tool, giving visibility into your organization.
What other tools do you use for collaboration?
M: We have a multi-sig for our team. Honestly, at the moment, that's largely our toolkit. We're not looking to build a bunch of technology, but we are going to be building out a digital resource library for grassroots organizers. What we're focusing on because we're local to New York is a lot of IRL events.
Right now, I guess we are the classic, a DAO with discord and multi-sig.
D: Yeah, we are the same and also Google Docs.
M: That reminds me we do use a little bit of Notion and we also have an account with Wonderverse, they have a really cool integration with Notion. Right now we don't use it as frequently just because we're a really small team. And a lot of our conversations feel like, here are quick action items in discord, like in our team chat versus needing a whole project management system.
D: So Wonderverse is a project management tool?
M: Yes, it's a project management tool.
D: Oh, so we use Dework for that. It's a great tool, it has integration with Metamask and you can directly pay your contributors and issue bounties, etc. Wonderverse sounds great too and we’ll look into it for our list of tools section in our Impact DAO book.
In terms of tokens, you said you're not gonna be issuing any tokens. What's your thought behind it and do you think it's gonna change in the future?
M: Yeah, I'm not positive if it's gonna change in the future.
I think it would just be a long and thoughtful process, not to suggest that groups who have tokens are not thoughtful at all. But I do think that there is a tendency to create the token and then figure it out after.
We don't want a token, especially one that's meant to represent mutual aid and support in our community and be something that people in the community start to rely on for groceries or for rent for it to be subject to volatility in the way that many tokens are.
We're gonna be really careful if ever we create a public token because it is pretty consequential.
D: That's right. I agree with you on the token side of things.
But tokens do have a good side too. I've been having so many interviews around Impact DAOs and Human DAO is one such example that issued tokens and did a token sale and raised money for their operations. And that’s fabulous if you are in the social impact space you don’t have to then ask for funds, you create your own. And if you can have a really good thought process behind it and manage the speculative side of things, maybe set a greater moral standard around tokens, which doesn't harm people.
Human DAO’s token sale enabled them to make an impact in the Philippines and now they are expanding to Argentina and Nigeria with their new product. And same goes with Gitcoin, they sustain their operations through tokenomics and pass on 100% of funds raised on their platform to grantees.
I feel like in the future, if there are better ways to do those token economies that do not cause harm will be so cool.
But then if you are not going to have tokens how would you then vote on matters? Because a lot of DAOs use tokens for governance and democratic decision-making as well. Btw, we at our startupy DAO use emojis to vote on matters and it works great so far.
M: Right now, because we as PACT filed as a 501c3, we are a US nonprofit. We're in the process of updating our bylaws to be more radical and DAO-friendly. Right now standard nonprofit bylaws largely say that the board of directors has power over everything which is obviously very centralized and it's not a democratic model at all.
We're in the process of reworking our bylaws to have roles for both the board of directors, which is like this unbiased group that kind of sits outside of PACT but they are integral to the decision making and the worker members who we call comrades, which are like our working team. And then Supporter members, which are like everybody who's contributed to our USD fund or our Mirror crowd fund etc.
We're in the process of outlining those in our bylaws, which we're gonna share with our group soon. Which is really exciting, to shake up the non-profit model from its very traditional sense.
As a DAO if we were to break a promise, like for instance on snapshot, the web3 voting system, there's not really a legal entity or anything that many people can do to hold the DAO accountable and to act the way the proposal was voted on.
But because we are also a non-profit and we are writing these rules that are built into our bylaws, we have both broader accountability, as well a new template for bylaws to bring to the nonprofit space.
We're working on those now. For now, it’s been pretty informal. I assume that will change after our bylaws roll out.
D: And how has this process been engaging with lawyers and changing the bylaws? A lot of people have these questions. Lots of people, you have no idea, just figuring out the legal stuff.
Btw, if you can share your lawyer's details for others and if he wants to be a standby resource for anybody who's dealing with questions like these, that’ll be awesome.
What has your own research around the legalities of things been?
M: I think that things are pretty challenging and that at least for a group like ours, one, it's hard to find a lawyer that wants to, or is willing to do anything for a reasonable price.
We were lucky to find someone who is super value aligned through The Blockchain Socialist. And he's helping us think about this more democratically and is very aware of DAOs and crypto.
For an organization like ours or other Impact DAOs, I think it's really important to find an accountant, a lawyer, and a tax person who is value-aligned.
D: I agree we’ve had similar experiences with two organizations who didn’t even try to understand us and quoted us insane prices. So it's so important to find value-aligned partners.
Maybe you want to check with your accountant and lawyer if they are open to taking on more organizations like yours.
M: Yes, I'll reach out to him and see if I can either use his name publicly or recommend him to other groups because I agree it’s nearly impossible to find online, like a lawyer or tax person, etc who knows crypto and the cooperative space.
D: So a couple more questions. I want to clear some misconceptions about DAOs. People think they are structureless, and not very efficient but I've been living a DAO life myself and then I've seen Gitcoin customer service. When I was doing the GR14 fundraising I opened at least five tickets and they all got answered within a few minutes. So I'm like, wow, they're more efficient than a lot of Silicon Valley tech companies. For instance, I use a couple of subscription services, and I sometimes open tickets there too and their turnaround time is two days. So I'm like, this Gitcoin DAO is so efficient.
So just trying to understand how have you structured your DAO and how work gets done.
M: One thing that I really like about our group is it's very thoughtful. We realize the gravity of what we're working with. I work in tech during the day and I think it's very much just about output.
And here at Pact, we're being a little bit more careful and not focusing on a roadmap or something like it.
We had a collaborative workshop series where we brought people who are working in mutual aid in web3 and people who are working in mutual aid in a more traditional sense, together for a panel discussion. And one of the people who spoke is Dean Spade.
He’s the writer of the book Mutual Aid that many people in the DAO space, even those who do not participate in mutual aid have read because these mutual aid groups run very similarly to how we want DAOs to run.
Dean Spade said that the primary “metric of success” in these groups is in relationships. Sometimes web3 tools allow us to bypass relationships because we could all purchase the same NFT and be authenticated into this group but do we have shared values?
Do we have a relationship with each other? Like how efficiently is a DAO going to operate if it’s full of people who just bought some high ticket NFT versus people who care about the same things?
In terms of our group, we've spent a lot of our season zero which has just been like this initial phase really building relationships. And I think seeing what works organically first and then following those roads.
I think that when we first started, we had this idea that we were just gonna put a bunch of money into a multi-sig and bring organizers in and they were like, “we don't get this. We don't like this.What are we going to do with this?”
It didn't work out the way that we thought it would. And in the meantime, we've been hosting educational workshops so that people could learn more about web3 and have this open space to organize. We've been bringing more of our members into the community, via activism, helping mutual aid groups going to community gardens and going to protests together.
I might be belaboring this question or not even answering it directly, so please feel free to reign me back in. But I think that we've been focusing on building the two things I'm trying to get at here are, building the relationship both between the members within our community, and with our local community. And the second thing is kind of like trying something first and if it doesn't work, letting it flop, if it works, okay, this is the direction we need to go.
I don't think it's right for us to make decisions on behalf of what would work best for the community. We need to be in constant contact with the local New York City community to find out what they need.
D: That’s the right way to go. Even with the book that we are writing on Impact DAOs, we will never put anything prescriptive or strict around how DAOs should operate. Our goal is to share stories, inspire others to build, and let people see a common pattern across all the DAOs that we have listed. We will never say, “this is the person in the DAO that does this.” We believe every DAO is gonna be different and will be designed differently for the needs that they're gonna meet.
I keep saying this to myself because I've also spent so much time in Silicon Valley that the SV mindset and web3 values are a very strong combination. Like the SV mindset is always questioning the status quo, building, iterating, and course correcting.
I'm not talking about the SV culture but the mindset, that’s entrepreneurial. It's so powerful. Like the SV gave us all the tools that we are using today and maybe down the line, they forgot their values. But web3 reminds us that these are the values that we need to build around.
So coming back to Pact DAO what do you call your departments, do you have a name for them?
M: Yeah. If I'm honest, since our team is fairly small, we're about six, and we have different sub channels within our team. And so we would call them workstreams.
In our team, there's like the general team chat, but then there is also a channel on event planning, partnerships, and organizing, there are a couple of different categories within that.
D: In terms of impact, how do you define impact for Pact DAO?
M: Wow, big question. Yeah, I think that things feel good, really good in the relationships that we're building. Obviously, the more IRL-like impact is important.
The money that comes out of PACT and goes into our community is obviously a really significant and beautiful measure. Something we'll definitely center a lot of our goals around.
But I also think again, I know it sounds cheesy but I really resonated when Dean said that relationship is what matters.
Because again our ultimate goal is to build a coalition among these efforts in New York.
There are tons of revolutionary groups doing great work but they're doing them in silos.
So rather than let's just say three disparate protests happening around the city, there's one gigantic one. Instead of three public safety alternatives to the police that are being built, we could help build one and actually try to overcome these systems with people's power.
The relationship is the best measure, whether they use a multi-sig in that or not. And we are going to bat for these web3 tools because we do think that they are really great and revolutionary tools.
And that's where we can come in - offer the money, offer that education, offer that onboarding. At the end of the day, it's gonna be about the relationships that are made.
A framework that our group is following is called dual power. It's a revolutionary framework that was developed by Lenin. And it talks about how to achieve revolutionary change.
You need to be working on two sides. You need to be both counter-power, which is like protesting, political education, getting the word out. But that alone won't bring us prosperity. For example screaming, defund the police, or abolish the police will not work if we aren't simultaneously building an institution that could replace it.
We need to also build this collaborative network of people who are doing this kind of revolutionary work, like building an alternative to the police. If we can be the connective tissue for that, if we can help fund that effort that these people-led democratic institutions would be my biggest dream for Pact.
D: Okay this will be my last question - any learnings you’ve had and advice for folks entering web3
M: For people who wanna get started in web3, I'd say find the people like you in the space. I think that there are multitudes of different types of people, just like there are multitudes of people building technology or building anything really.
I do think that there's more than the tech bro or whatever that is really promoted in the web3 space. And I've been lucky to find those people early on in my journey. Otherwise, if I hadn't, I wouldn't have continued.
Like if I had just googled crypto prominent people, it would've been like, “all right. I'm out.”
So you gotta just find the people that are like you and maybe that comes with talking to your like-minded friends
As for the learnings that we've had as a group I think it really is that slowing down is important.
I think there is a beauty about the tech mindset of you know let’s try some things, let's have some fun. Like, let's keep things moving forward. Like we don't need to overanalyze everything.
I think with things like mutual aid and certain impact projects we need to be careful of the effect that has on people.
And I'm gonna butcher this quote, but Audrey Tang the Director of Digital Democracy in Taiwan said something to the effect of real trust building comes with co-creating.
I think that a lot of DAOs definitely need to start centralized, in some way. Because otherwise nothing would get done if everything was just an open question. But I think to build relationships, you really need to invite people to the table as early on as possible.
If I'm honest like we continued with the name Pact because we had started Pact in 2020. And we had some relationships with organizers locally so it felt good to just continue that but if I could go back in time, I would start Pact as something completely new.
Having a name, having an entity already set up, when we were reaching out to mutual aid groups and wanting to collaborate and wanting to build something together, they were like, “oh, but you guys are Pact. You guys are already a thing.”
I think that added this layer of skepticism. The grassroots community was like, “You're this web3 crypto group? What do you guys want from us?” Versus just being like, “Hey, we're a bunch of people in the community who wanna work with you and have a knowledge and skill set in this type of technology, and all of these different things that we wanna bring to your group. And we wanna collaborate with you.”
I think inviting the people that you wanna work with, like the people that, may be in the tech world, would identify as your ‘users’ or ‘your customers’ bringing them into your creation process as early in as possible is something valuable that we've learned.
That's so true, thank you for sharing your story and we are glad to have you part of our study. 🔶
🎙 Marisa was interviewed on July 28th, 2022 as part of the Impact DAOs research project.
This post is part of a series on the Impact DAOs Research + Book project. This project is by a collective of folks in web3 + impact + media. The team members on Twitter are @tranimal, @katerinabohlec, @Abeers123, @Poplinecreation, @crystaldstreet, @0xSardius, @karanth_harsha, @actThreeCC, @0xSiddhearta, @Value_Strat, @zaldarren, @astrocruz_s, @ashisharora27, @pop_timism, @alkohlmist, @ikonoklast, @bjuglas + Kim on LI
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