The ABA received the Public Affairs Council’s 2016 Grassroots Innovation Award in June for the Save #Loan4Giveness social media campaign the association conducted during the past year to save the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program, which was threatened by budget cuts.
The award is given to an organization that uses “creative and effective approaches to engaging, empowering and activating their grassroots advocates,” according to a Public Affairs Council press release. “The association’s ‘Save #Loan4Giveness’ campaign stood apart from the ABA’s previous grassroots efforts: it targeted its youngest and prospective members exclusively through social media and branding geared toward these constituencies,” the release explained.
PSLF was established in 2007 to provide forgiveness of remaining federal student loan debt after 10 years of eligible full-time employment in public service and 120 qualifying monthly payments. Proposals to cap or eliminate the program would directly impact the legal community, where the greatest obstacle in recruiting and retaining lawyers for lower-paying public-sector positions has been the substantial student debt that borrowers incur to pursue a law degree.
The ABA campaign, launched in the summer of 2015, encouraged young lawyers, students and others who would be affected by the program to reach out to their legislators on Capitol Hill through social media and share their personal stories using videos and photos.
The #loan4giveness hashtag generated 2.3 million impressions on Twitter alone, and thousands of young lawyers and law students participated in the campaign. Led by the ABA Governmental Affairs Office’s Grassroots Director Jared Hess, the Young Lawyers’ Division, and the ABA Law Student Division, the campaign was accomplished with a budget of under $1,000.
“These innovations are important because they demonstrate ways in which associations, regardless of size and budget, can generate effective grassroots communications from young members,” Hess said.
While the goals of the campaign seem to have been accomplished for now and PSLF is no longer under threat, the association stands ready to lead the charge on future grassroots campaigns should the need arise.