Knocking Trump out of Office—Lessons for Communicators 

mans hand using door knocker on wood effect upvc door cold calling household

By Malia Mackey—


I recently spent nine days in Dubuque, Iowa, knocking on doors, making calls, and volunteering during my holiday break to #WinTheEra. A friend of mine is an organizer for Team Pete, so I figured I’d put my money where my mouth is when it comes to the current state of our democracy and get engaged in the battleground of the first Democratic caucus. I want to be clear: I do not represent the Pete for America campaign in any official capacity, nor do I know what it’s like to be an organizer. I simply peeked behind the curtain of passion and hard work that campaign staff put in every day to build a future that they can get behind.

I didn’t know much about what I would be doing in Iowa, but I knew I’d be knocking on doors and making phone calls to speak with strangers about politics—interactions I typically avoid.


However, two things were working in my favor:

First, the people on whose doors I’d be knocking are used to it. Every four years Iowans are engaged on TV, their phones, and porches. They are often thoughtful and well-informed, and are willing to politely decline a conversation if they’ve had their fill of political intake for the time being. Sometimes the dozens of recent grads knocking on their doors is even a welcome conversation.  Many incredibly kind Iowans welcomed me into their homes for a welcome break from the chilly outdoors, and my heart warmed at their hospitality.

And second, I love talking to strangers—Lyft drivers, grocery clerks, bar bouncers, you name the person, and I’ll happily strike up a conversation. We have so much we can learn from every person that we come in contact with—and this was no exception.


Here are four lessons for communicators that I took away talking to these strangers in Iowa:


1. Listen first. I know that this may seem like a “duh” point, and hopefully you’ve seen Sara’s piece on listening already, but it’s surprising how often people want to talk about their favorite part about their candidate without first hearing what resonates with the person in front of them. If I go up to someone’s door wanting to rave about Buttigieg’s healthcare plan, but they really care about their mounting student loan debt, people feel talked at instead of talked to and I missed an opportunity to speak to their priorities.

The same is true in our communications work. We can write a compelling piece, but it doesn’t matter how well-crafted it is if it’s missing the mark on our audience’s priorities.


2. When you speak, abandon your pre-planned monologue and focus on what excites and intrigues people. This requires that you followed step one and actually listened to learn what people find exciting. At the doors and on the phone in Iowa, I latched onto what energizes the person I was speaking to. The difference in the conversation is incredible; people smiled and opened up when I asked them what resonated with them about their favorite candidate. The smile comes from a place of remembering their “why” and being able to share their values and why they matter to them.

For communicators, the lesson is to create compelling content that touches on the excitement of the audience. Find the impact and stories of lives changed that an organization has been responsible for and that resonates with your donor base, staff, supporters, or whoever you’re trying to reach. People can’t get excited about your work if you don’t give them something well-crafted to reflect on.


3. Feelings belong in our conversations. When it comes to discussing candidates, I sometimes hear people discounting emotional decisions as if humans act on facts alone. We cannot discount the benefits of “feeling good” about the person running our country. You can give people all the data you want, but if they don’t feel good about their decision, they’re less likely to show up and vote. This translates to other actions, like donating to your organization. Not unlike politics, as Jamil Zaki put it, “empathy — adds a powerful, positive spark to philanthropy.”


4. Listen to Michelle Obama when she reminds us, “when they go low, we go high.” In philanthropy and politics, talking down only divides and poisons the well. While TV ratings thrive on divisive forces, I was heartened by how many people’s first comment on Buttigieg was that he doesn’t get dragged into the drama, or the negativity. This is important to note—people notice and care about how you treat and communicate with others.


If there is one goal in my professional and personal life, it is to get more people to care about the world beyond themselves. When people care, they engage with the people and causes around them, increasing touchpoints, ideas, and actions to make this place better. But you can’t force them. People need to be inspired from a place of genuine interest. If you can touch on their values, they will want to give more of their resources and efforts.

At each door, I worked to translate care into action so that our current president—who clearly does not care about much outside of himself—is removed from office. Even though people choose different priorities and ways to exercise their concerns, I encouraged everyone to caucus because the whole country is watching their decisions. This stuff matters.

At Minerva, we are in the business of highlighting important and often unsung work in ways that resonate with people and drive action. We strive to show people why the organizations we support are worth caring about and what people can do to make their world better.


Minerva Strategies endorses all candidates—Democrat or Republican—who run against Donald Trump. Among other issues, he’s a terrible communicator and it pains us to listen to him.

About The Author

Minerva Strategies

Minerva Strategies

The Minerva team has decades of experience working with nonprofits, foundations, and values-driven companies. Minerva also partners with experts—trusted designers, web developers, global communications professionals, and others—who share our excitement for creating positive social change. Through these partnerships, we can build a team that is tailored to your needs. Learn more about who we are or what we do.