Ellen-Schank

Making an impact: The Allstate Foundation’s Ellen Lisak shares an inside look into their 15-year commitment to ending domestic violence — which has helped over two-million survivors to date

In 2005, The Allstate Foundation conducted stakeholder research to identify some of the most pressing (and underfunded) issues facing society at the time.

Domestic violence is a highly unreported issue, and the societal infrastructure that exists to collect statistics around cases is complicated and inaccurate. Ellen Lisak
According to Senior Corporate Relations Manager and Program Officer Ellen Lisak, The Allstate Foundation Trustees saw the statistics around the domestic violence epidemic which includes one in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime — and in 99% of those cases, financial abuse is what keeps them trapped in those relationships.

So, Allstate decided to take action.

Over the past 15 years, they've been focused on breaking the cycle of domestic violence.

At the onset, before Ellen joined the team, she said the Foundation focused on creating an infrastructure and resources for financial empowerment programs and raising the profile of the critical need for economic justice work across the domestic violence sector.

Now, she said its ultimate goal is to end domestic violence. “That's going to require a major societal shift to truly accomplish,” she said. “But that's how we think about our programming on an annual basis.”

To help meet those goals, The Allstate Foundation formed a partnership with the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) in 2005.

The curriculum was proven to drive long-term positive outcomes for survivors who engage with it. Ellen Lisak
“We partnered with NNEDV to elevate the visibility around financial abuse as a form of domestic violence and the need for resources on a national scale to support this work,” said Ellen. “They help advise us on our program and thought leadership agenda by bringing the critical perspective of the domestic violence sector to the table.”

As part of that partnership with NNEDV, the team created a core component of their domestic violence work: The Allstate Foundation Moving Ahead curriculum.

The Allstate Foundation Moving Ahead curriculum is a financial empowerment resource that the Foundation had academically validated by Rutgers University.

“It was proven to drive long-term positive outcomes for survivors who engage with it,” said Ellen. “That curriculum is available for free on our website (AllstateFoundation.org/EndDomesticViolence) in English and Spanish, and we are constantly promoting it for survivors to use.”

According to Ellen, the Foundation's portfolio of work has grown into three sections: direct service support, thought leadership, and public awareness and engagement.

The core of its direct service support is the Allstate Foundation Moving Ahead Curriculum as well as grant programs that support the advancement and implementation of it and support other innovative financial empowerment services like matched savings accounts and microlending. As part of this work, the Foundation also trains domestic violence advocates on how to teach the curriculum to survivors in their communities.

It's been important for us to have good nonprofit partners that are true experts and can help inform our program. Ellen Lisak
For the thought leadership work, Ellen said The Allstate Foundation participates in high-profile speaking engagements to try to inspire dialogue around the issues among influencers and opinion leaders, and they also conduct original research to inform their work and the sector at large.

Then, for the public awareness component of their program, the Foundation runs a series of public awareness campaigns to help break down the social stigma around these issues, to get people talking about them, and to help educate people on how to spot the signs of domestic violence and financial abuse and start a conversation with someone they think may be in an abusive situation.

Ellen said they promote these programs and campaigns through social and earned media channels, in newsletters that offer resources to domestic violence victims, and through an internal communications infrastructure that helps them reach employees and agency owners who support their work in local communities across the country.

Through these programs and initiatives, Ellen and her team are constantly working to overcome the ongoing challenge of accurately tracking their impact on domestic violence.

We have helped empower more than two-million survivors on the path to safety and security. Ellen Lisak
“Domestic violence is a highly unreported issue, and the societal infrastructure that exists to collect statistics around cases is complicated and inaccurate,” said Ellen. “We continue to look for ways we can help strengthen the measurement system that exists within the field and think about ways we can improve the way we measure the impact of our work.”

Ellen said she and her team are proud of the work they've done over the past 15 years, which has helped millions of domestic violence survivors.

“We have helped empower more than two-million survivors on the path to safety and security,” she said. “We've also trained more than 15,000 advocates and have invested over $70 million in our program.”

We also facilitated a donation on behalf of Allstate of nearly 80,000 KN-95 masks to domestic violence shelters. Ellen Lisak
And, she said, the Foundation is constantly finding new ways to innovate and help assist domestic violence survivors through the work. According to Ellen, just last year, they hosted a social media campaign with survivors who told their stories.

“The process of bringing those survivors into our program and seeing the empowerment they felt by having a platform where they could share their stories was truly inspiring,” she said.

According to Ellen, much of what they've been able to accomplish is because of the strong relationships they have with their nonprofit partners.

“It's been important for us to have good nonprofit partners that are true experts and can help inform our program. They help us bridge the gap between our vision and what's feasible and realistic within the domestic violence field,” said Ellen. “We can't drive true social impact without the partners who are directly supporting survivors and doing this work every single day.”

She said forming strong, collaborative partnerships and working together to co-create solutions is critical.

So, when their nonprofit partners were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Ellen said it was important for the Foundation to provide aid that would support their partners and the domestic violence survivors they serve.

You can have much more of an impact if you're focused on something specific within a macro issue. Ellen Lisak
According to Ellen, nonprofit fundraising was hit hard by the pandemic. To help alleviate that challenge for nonprofit partners and communities, The Allstate Foundation announced an overall $5-million contribution to COVID-19 relief and recovery. This included a $500,000 microgrant program that provided microgrants to over a hundred domestic violence organizations.

“We also facilitated a donation on behalf of Allstate of nearly 80,000 KN-95 masks to domestic violence shelters,” she said. “Their frontline workers don't have access to the same PPE that a lot of medical professionals do. We were able to address that need.”

She said having strong relationships with their partners enabled them to have the necessary conversations to provide them with the support they needed.

For anyone looking to start a program like this, Ellen recommended educating yourself about the issues that exist and figuring out where you fit into the solution.

“You can have much more of an impact if you're focused on something specific within a macro issue,” she said. “It's also important to do your research before you get started to truly understand the space.”

She also advised committing to your cause for the long haul whenever possible.

The fact that Allstate has been committed to this issue for the last 15 years is unique. We're fortunate that our leadership has continued to be great champions for this work. Ellen Lisak
“If you can make a program or partnership into a long-term commitment, it'll improve your ability to drive meaningful change beyond what you can do in just a short amount of time,” said Ellen. “The fact that Allstate has been committed to this issue for the last 15 years is unique. A lot of companies don't take such a long-term approach, and that's due to the commitment of our Foundation Trustees. We're fortunate that our leadership has continued to be great champions for this work.”

Finally, she emphasized that there is still much to be done to eradicate domestic violence from society for good.

“This is a societal issue, and it's an economic issue,” she said. “It's not something we can ignore.”

Ellen Lisak has been a member of the CSR Board since 2020. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.