In "Death Taxes: A Lifeline for Charities?" [Federal Page, Dec. 1] Kent Allen explores the question of whether repeal of the estate tax would reduce the appeal of deductions and therefore hurt philanthropy. I'm not sure tax breaks play such a big role.

Conversations during the past 35 years with perhaps 1,000 wealthy individuals have convinced me that when those with wealth think about giving, they start from somewhere quite different, from a sense of their own, sometimes unexpected, good fortune. They work out for themselves a personal definition that relates wealth to responsibility and revolves around an irresistible impulse to give back, to make a difference, to fulfill the yearning to be a good person.

It is troubling to see some nonprofit groups make the case against the elimination of the estate tax based solely on the argument that their revenues will decrease. It reinforces the public's belief that the deductibility is most important. Much more compelling is the argument that elimination of the estate tax is not good public policy. At a time when the concentration of wealth is the highest in history--with the top one percent of the population holding 42 percent of all wealth--an appropriate estate tax is both right and fair.

The message from us in the nonprofit community needs to reflect a broader view, one that honors the spirit of the philanthropic impulse and those who embody it.



The writer is president of the Philanthropic Initiative Inc.