Online money conduits like Paypal allow readers to make small donations to authors. Blogger Jason Kottke coined the term "micropatronage," when he spent 2005 blogging full-time, living off the largesse of his audience.
As Blogging for Dollars reveals, he "quit his job to blog full-time and asked his readers to become 'micropatrons' at a suggested rate of $30. He received $39,900 from 1,450 people but abandoned the experiment after a year. Kottke is vague about the reasons why he swore off micropatronage, but he suggests that he was worried that people wouldn't donate year after year. In order to build a bigger audience and potential new donors, he would have had to do some of the cheesy things to drive traffic (i.e., "Top Five Best" posts) and/or become a cult of personality (overshare, start flame wars, social network relentlessly). These days, he accepts ads as part of the Deck network."
A handful of bloggers have found sponsorship deals with larger outlets. Sometimes that's an endorsed feature like Craig Romano cross-posting a hike a week on WeatherChannel.com. I worked on a Diet-Coke-branded MSN site in 2008 that mixed text with short film clips of presenters, whom the snarkosphere dubbed "video puppets". Our budget derived from the advertising end and, in fact, my editor worked at a marketing company: an odd mishmash of intentions we'll probably see more and more (MSN Daily Access ceased publication after nine months or so).
Other times sponsorship's an outright "this post was brought to you by Brand X" entry-label. As an old-school journo, I'm pretty uncomfortable with "advertorials" unless they're distinctly labeled. And the government in the US, at least may soon require better labeling. But in the meantime, you're da boss. Do what suits!
For charitable endeavors, turn to fundraising platforms like Kickstarter, which showcases "backer rewards" and easily processes donations via Amazon accounts. My friend, travel writer Charyn Pfeuffer, just raised $20, 518, so she could voluntour in 12 countries. Thank-you treats ranged from homemade Theo chocolate bread to 40% off three nights at the Royal Hawaiian. Pfeuffer now can trade her Blackberry for a backpack, volunteering and publicizing programs around the world. Not only will her adventures give something back to cultures she routinely covers, but she now has a powerful social-network to broadcast her findings. It's a fantastic experiment in voluntourism and grassroots media funding.