That said, I don't have any difficulty with putting the option for PayPal donations on my stories page -- a version is there, letting you donate .50 if you liked a story, and while I need to change that model (PayPal is currently taking .30 of such small payments, so it's not an ideal setup), I don't think there's anything wrong with putting the option there, to let readers send in some cash if they liked a story. It's not exactly selling fiction, and it's not exactly asking for money -- I'm not sure what it is, actually, but it seems a valid option. Merit-based reward, I suppose, is the closest I can come up with.
I think that's basically how most arts grants operate, actually. There are some need-based, certainly. But the bulk of them are merit-based -- you, the writer/artist, sends in your application, usually a sample of your work and a statement of what you would use the money for. And the arts committee then decides whether assisting your project would be a good use of their money. They make their decision based on a variety of factors -- sometimes they're taking gender, or ethnicity, or social class into account, depending on what their mission is. But they're pretty much always judging quality too, if only because there will be quite a few people who fit the initial criteria, and the final shaking-out will be determined based on their assessment of the highest quality (or sometimes, of which project or which person will benefit the most). I approve of merit-based grants, personally -- I think a combination of needs-based and merit-based grants is probably ideal for an arts organization to best serve the community, and to serve the desire for better art.
So while I certainly am not planning to start a send-Mary Anne-to-Sri Lanka fund in this journal, I do think it would be interesting to think about redoing my story pages to make it a little clearer what happens if you like my work and want to support it, and then allow people the option of doing so directly. In a sense, it's cutting out the middleman -- instead of donating money to the NEA or some other arts organization and then letting them make the call, it's letting readers make the call. And sure, readers get to do that when they buy books -- but a) a lot of that money goes to publishers and distributors and bookstores and such, and b) this allows them to get involved at other stages -- to assist with research travel, for example, or to reward the writer for sharing reprint short fiction freely, rather than reserving it for some potential publication at a future date.
I'm not sure how I would set something like that up, so it didn't sound like I was in financial need when I'm clearly not. But it's certainly true that a lot of the time these days, rather than small presents, what would be most useful to me would be people chipping in to get something I can't easily justify buying for myself, like a plane ticket overseas, or a new computer that doesn't crash :-). I'm just wondering if there's a way to make that simpler all around.
It's an interesting question.