Life, luck and death - it's all in the numbers

publication date: Jan 3, 2013

Beliefs and traditions around numbers are unique from culture to culture, according to Alison Holt of The Offord Group. Writing in the November-December 2010 issue of Offord’s Perspectives on Canadian Philanthropy, she pointed out that fundraisers may find it useful to know about the significance of numbers in different cultures .

Before you fix the dollar amount for a proposal, she advised, be aware of these examples from several cultures where numbers are meaningful.

18 The Hebrew word “chai” means “life.” It’s composed of two letters whose numerical value is 18. Charitable donations are often made in multiples of 18 for good luck.

8 In Chinese culture the number 8 is considered so auspicious that any number with several eights is considered very lucky, Holt says. That’s why the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics in Beijing began on 8/8/08 at 8 seconds and 8 minutes past 8 pm local time.

9 The number 9 is the greatest of the single-digit numbers in Chinese culture. It’s associated with the Emperor of China, whose robes often had 9 dragons. In Chinese mythology, the dragon has 9 children. It’s often used in weddings because it signifies “long lasting.”

4 In Chinese, Korean and Japanese cultures, 4 is an unlucky number because it sounds very much like the word for “death.” It’s avoided in the same way that the number 13 is avoided in Western culture: Nokia cell phones have no product series beginning with 4, some buildings in East Asia lack a 4th floor, and some Hong Kong high-rises avoid floor numbers 4, 14, 24, 34, and all the numbers from 40 to 49.

13 Though considered unlucky by Western tradition, 13 has positive associations in some other cultures. In Judaism, a boy matures at 13. Sikhs consider it to be a special number, and in Mandarin, 13 can be pronounced just like the words that mean “definitely vibrant” or “assured growth.”

Of course, just knowing the numbers is not nearly enough to approach diverse donors successfully. Charities that take diversity seriously begin with their own staff team. Offord’s business affairs director Prabha Mattappally wrote that charities that embrace internal diversity benefit from new perspectives and approaches to fundraising, broader networks, and increased responsiveness to a greater number of diverse communities. Yet even in Toronto, one of Canada’s most diverse cities, 61% of charities and 80% of foundations had executive teams without any visible minorities when Offord's research was done.

This article is excerpted from the November-December 2010 issue of Perspectives on Canadian Philanthropy: The Diversity Issue, available for downloading at

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