I publicly launched Richmond Sunlight five years ago this week. Upon its launch I gave it to the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy because, as I wrote, “they’re non-partisan, they have an attention span longer than a housefly, and they have access to resources that I don’t.” I concluded: “I’ll run it for them for the next six months, while we train an editor and a webmaster to take it over. Then I can move on to my next project.” Richmond Sunlight is something that I want to exist, but not something that I actually want to be my problem. But nothing ever changed: the website was Virginia Interfaith’s in a legal sense (on a handshake deal), but in all other practical senses, it was mine. Every bit of the website was mine to run, from stem to stern…which was the opposite of my goal. It occupied enough of my time I couldn’t move onto that next project. In March, I informed the Virginia Interfaith Center that I had just worked my last session—they’d need to finally hire that webmaster. And I walked away from Richmond Sunlight, which is what enabled me to get started on Virginia Decoded. (Which is on hold briefly while I’m working for the White House.)
A few weeks ago, the Virginia Interfaith Center decided that they couldn’t operate Richmond Sunlight. The cost of paying somebody with the appropriate skill set would be too high and, besides, they’re between executive directors, and have more important things going on. So I asked for them to give it back, which they did cheerfully.
So I seem to have this website. Now I’m trying to figure out what to do with it. Giving it away hasn’t worked out, so now I need to chart a course that will allow it to grow and thrive, and also be financially sustainable.
Perhaps I could start a 501(c)3 to house Richmond Sunlight, Virginia Decoded, Open Virginia, and my other nascent efforts towards open government in Virginia? But then what—where does the money come from? I worry that advertising could make Richmond Sunlight appear disreputable. I think I could get some grants, but that’s ultimately not a business model. Maybe a few site sponsors (advertising lite), though I don’t know that anybody would be willing to pay enough to hire somebody to run the site during session. I do have a mostly completed “pro” version of Richmond Sunlight, but I’ve hesitated to launch it because I can’t provide the support that customers would deserve. (“Sorry it’s broken for you, but I’m at work now. And I’m busy tonight. How’s Saturday for you?”) While there’s a bit of a horse-and-cart problem there, the revenue from that could well make it possible to hire somebody to provide that support and also run the website. Perhaps there’s a partnership waiting to happen—some organization with whom the site could have a mutually beneficial relationship?
I’m soliciting ideas. What should I do with Richmond Sunlight? How do I ensure that it continues to exist, fulfills its potential, but doesn’t keep me from moving onto other projects?