How Allstate Helped Create a National Network Against Domestic Abuse

Recently I interviewed the Vice President of Public Social Responsibility at Allstate, Vicky Dinges (pictured below). We talked about why domestic violence is a cornerstone of the Allstate Foundation and how this issue is a reflection of Allstate's core mission.

BCLC: Why is domestic violence an important issue to Allstate?

Vicky Dinges: For the Good Hands people, addressing domestic violence reflects the core mission of Allstate: to protect people from life’s uncertainties and prepare them for the future. Since 1952, The Allstate Foundation has offered a helping hand to some of our nation’s most vulnerable individuals, families, and communities.

Research shows that lack of financial knowledge and resources is one of the biggest reasons domestic violence survivors remain in abusive relationships.

Our decision to focus on domestic violence in 2005 resulted from significant research on compelling social issues for a property insurance and financial services company. Research consistently shows that lack of financial knowledge and resources is one of the biggest reasons domestic violence survivors remain in or return to abusive relationships. As the corporate foundation of a financial services company, we knew we could make a difference by providing financial empowerment services to survivors of abuse. In addition, our Foundation’s trustees wanted to tackle a social issue few others had the courage to address.

The statistics are compelling:

  • Every hour, nearly 150 women are abused by a partner.
  • An average of three women die each day due to domestic violence.
  • Domestic violence affects 1 in 4 women during their lives.
  • Nearly 75 percent of Americans know someone who has been abused.

We knew we could make a difference by providing financial empowerment to survivors of abuse.

Most victims of domestic violence are mothers, sisters, daughters, neighbors and friends. They often have families with young children who must witness violence at times and in ways no child should have to endure. “Economic abuse” is frequently the weapon of choice used against domestic violence victims. Abusers will often use tactics that derail their victim’s ability to find or keep work, control the victim’s earnings, or ruin the victim’s credit – all leading to women often having to make the tough choice between staying in an abusive relationship or facing homelessness and poverty.

We knew that as a company committed to helping people fulfill their hopes and dreams, Allstate had the unique ability to help break the cycle of domestic violence. Every day, Allstate agency owners and personal financial representatives use their knowledge and skills to help families manage their finances and prepare for the future. We knew we could use that expertise to help domestic violence survivors break free and stay free from violence. We felt Allstate has credibility as an expert in financial services with a safe and family-friendly brand identity that would make survivors comfortable.

Allstate had the unique ability to help break the cycle of domestic violence.

BCLC: Since the inception of the domestic violence program at the Foundation, what are some significant findings and milestones of the program?

Dinges: One of our first findings was that we couldn’t do this important work alone. Although we had done a lot of research about domestic violence, it would be arrogant to think we knew everything. Fortunately, we developed a partnership early on with the National Network to End Domestic Violence. Since 2005, NNEDV has been our primary national partner. NNEDV team members have served as trusted colleagues, counselors and even critics at times (which is important and very helpful).

With NNEDV, we developed and distributed The Allstate Foundation Moving Ahead through Financial Management curriculum, which is one of the only national, comprehensive resources tailored to help teach domestic violence survivors about tasks ranging from opening a bank account to fixing credit, buying a home and even estate planning. The curriculum is also available at the Click to Empower website.

We asked the Rutgers University School of Social Work to study the effectiveness of the curriculum as a strategy to empower survivors and change lives. While the research is ongoing, preliminary results indicate that survivors using the curriculum reported a significant increase in economic self-sufficiency: 94 percent of participants were no longer living with their abusive partner, and 86 percent were still using the Moving Ahead resources after six months. We’re confident that results of the longitudinal survey, expected in 2014, will significantly affect the type of services offered to survivors.

With NNEDV, we developed one of the only national, comprehensive resources to teach domestic violence survivors about opening a bank account, fixing credit, buying a home and even estate planning.

Originally, we were so focused on providing financial empowerment services for domestic violence survivors that we didn’t realize many domestic violence service providers (known as advocates) weren’t necessarily equipped to teach financial education. So, The Allstate Foundation has hosted seven annual symposiums to teach advocates how to educate survivors about life-saving financial skills.

In 2009, working with social-impact measurement experts, we developed a comprehensive way to measure key aspects of our work, including annual figures on the following: how many survivors we informed, engaged and empowered to take action; agency owners, personal financial representatives and employees involved in our programs; opinion leaders reached with information about public policy issues affecting survivors; media outreach results; and other key performance metrics. The figures we collect each year help us document our impact and inform future strategies and tactics.

Last year, our Allstate Against Abuse Team grew to 200 members. AAAT is a growing network of Allstate agency owners, personal financial representatives and employees who have volunteered to address domestic violence in their communities. Many teach financial empowerment workshops. Some serve on governing boards for domestic violence organizations; others simply share messages tied to our program on their personal and professional social networks. We’ve learned that our Allstate colleagues have a lot of passion for serving their community. Their commitment to the issue is truly inspirational.

Last year, our Allstate Against Abuse Team grew to 200 members.

BCLC: What are some of the challenges you face?

Dinges: In the last 40 years, the domestic violence prevention movement focused on crisis intervention to achieve safety for survivors. Of course, crisis intervention is critical to ensure the short-term safety of a survivor, but it doesn’t always provide a long-term escape from violence. In a way, through our focus on financial empowerment of survivors, The Allstate Foundation introduced a new service delivery model, which can be very challenging.

Also challenging is the fact that domestic violence is often considered a “private” issue that people don’t want to discuss or don’t know how to discuss. They often don’t know that talking about it could save the life of someone they love. That’s why one of our goals has been to increase public awareness about domestic violence.

We’ve conducted several campaigns designed to get people talking about domestic violence both online and off. Through traditional and social media, the Foundation has engaged millions of people in open conversations about domestic violence and financial abuse while providing grants and resources to organizations working directly with survivors as part of the programs.

In 2011, we launched a successful campaign around PurplePurse.com– a website that looks like an online fashion magazine, but is actually a great resource with tips and tools to start talking about domestic violence. With tweet-up events at nine YWCAs across the country, more than 1,000 bloggers and reporters talking about the issue with their readers, and a sustained campaign on Facebook and Twitter, millions of people were exposed to this important conversation in just one month.

In 2011, we launched a website that looks like an online fashion magazine but is actually a great resource with tips and tools to start talking about domestic violence.

While we’re proud of our Purple Purse program, we know it is important to work with others to raise awareness of domestic violence. One particularly powerful new program the Foundation helps fund is NO MORE, the first collaborative effort by several national funders and virtually every major domestic violence and sexual assault organization in the nation, all working together toward a futurein which there is no more domestic violence or sexual assault. Like the peace sign, the yellow “support our troops” ribbon, the red AIDS ribbon or the pink breast cancer ribbon, the goal is to use a new symbol to help spark a national dialogue and move the issues of domestic violence and sexual assault higher on the public’s agenda.

BCLC: What has the impact of your program been in local communities?

Dinges: We’ve been told that the work of the Foundation over the last seven years has been game-changing, and that the domestic violence service network in America is stronger today because of our leadership.

Since our program began in 2005, we’ve invested about $30 million in national, state and local domestic violence organizations and activities that have affected communities in many ways. Our funding has helped more than 100,000 survivors take steps toward financial independence through services like financial education, matched savings programs, job training and microenterprise services. The Allstate Foundation has trained more than 3,000 advocates in 900 local programs in 33 states, so even more survivors can be financially empowered in the future.

We’ve been told that the domestic violence service network in America is stronger today because of our leadership.

Most importantly, the Foundation is changing the conversation about domestic violence and the nature of services provided to survivors. In the past, talk about domestic violence has focused on healing physical cuts and bruises. Today, the focus is on providing services that help one of our nation’s most vulnerable populations – abused women, often with children – achieve their hopes and dreams through financial empowerment.

One of these survivors is Kay, a mother of two who felt trapped in an abusive relationship surrounded by violence and substance abuse. After attending one of the Foundation’s domestic violence programs, she gained the strength to take charge of her life. By learning financial literacy skills like budgeting and investing, she was able to save up to enter a nursing program, get a job at a nursing facility and leave the toxic relationship. Today, Kay and her daughters are living happily in a three-bedroom home with a large backyard, far away from their abusive past. Kay tells her story in many Foundation-led meetings and summits, empowering other women to break free from violence and lead a safe and fulfilling life. 

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Hear from the Award Finalists

In 2011, Allstate and NNEDV were named finalists in the annual Corporate Citizenship Awards in the category of Best Partnership. This is their interview on-site at the awards celebration at Washington, D.C.'s Newseum.