Getting Free: How This Corporate Funder Works on Domestic Violence

photo:  Warpboyz/shutterstock

photo:  Warpboyz/shutterstock

It’s estimated that one in 3 women and one in 4 men in the United States have been victims of some form of physical abuse perpetrated by an intimate partner during their lifetimes. According to the Allstate Foundation, more women experience domestic violence than breast, lung and ovarian cancer combined. Almost as disturbing is that financial abuse occurs in nearly 100 percent of all domestic violence cases.  

Financial abuse happens when abusers deny victims access to money and other financial resources. Using money as another weapon to prevent victims from leaving, unfortunately, works. Without access to cash, victims face the very real possibility of homelessness, food insecurity, and if they have them, the inability to support their children. The result for many women in these situations is to stay or return home to face their abusers.

The Allstate Foundation’s Purple Purse Challenge is working to address financial freedom by building a national movement to empower women to break the cycle of domestic violence and financial abuse. To date, the foundation has invested over $55 million toward those ends, with the most recent Purple Purse Challenge raising close to $4.2 million.

These aren't very big numbers compared to a lot of grantmaking we cover in Inside Philanthropy. But this funding is significant in a niche that gets little attention. Despite an upsurge in grantmaking for gender equity in recent years, domestic violence remains a backburner issue within philanthropy. Very few national funders prioritize this problem despite its prevalence. (The Mary Kay and Avon foundations are among them, along with Allstate.) More typically, the foundations active in this space tend to be state- or locally focused. But there's not many of those. A leader, here, as we've reported, is the Blue Shield Foundation of California.

It's not surprising that the Allstate Foundation would focus on the financial aspects of domestic violence; we see a lot of insurance companies paying attention to economic security issues in one way or another through their grantmaking.

The Allstate Foundation's latest fundraising effort involved 221 nonprofits coming together to support domestic violence victims across the country. For its part, the Allstate Foundation offered up $700,000 in incentives and prize money to motivate participants to raise even more cash. The organization that raised the most money received Allstate’s top prize of $100,000.

To make things fair, the challenge splits organizations into divisions according to size—Division I is reserved for groups with budgets of $1.5 million or more, and Division II is for groups with budgets of less than $1.5 million. The top prize winner in Division I was the YWCA of Evanston/North Shore, which operates the only residential domestic violence program in northeastern Chicago. The Division II winner was FreeFrom, an organization that focuses on “economic justice and stability” for survivors of domestic violence and their children.

The Allstate Foundation has been running its Purple Purse challenge since 2005. It says that the challenge has helped over 1 million survivors break free from the cycle of violence through financial empowerment, while also helping national, state and local domestic violence organizations fundraise so they can continue their programs working with victims and their families.  

Although the national dialogue on domestic violence and abuse continues to grow, the matter remains—as the Allstate Foundation puts it—“a well kept secret.” It’s well past time for that secret to come out into the light. Purple Purse may be a small step in making that happen, but it’s an important step.