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STEFANIE G. ROUMELIOTES AND THE ART OF FUNDING AND PROMOTING POLITICAL CANDIDATES AND THE CAUSE OF WOMEN
A fundraising and strategic dynamo behind the campaigns of among others California Governor Gavin Newsom, Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis, San Francisco Mayor London Breed and the national campaigns of everyone from Hillary Clinton to Joe Biden to Kamala Harris, Stefanie G. Roumeliotes is the founder and chief executive of SGR Consulting, a San Francisco-based firm she founded 17 years ago to translate her “passion for supporting political candidates and causes, and enhancing the welfare of others.”
She has raised hundreds of millions for political clients, but also for a roster of charities and non-profits such as the United Nations Foundation, the Foundation for AIDS Research, and Futures Without Violence group. She has also served as a San Francisco commissioner for the City and County of San Francisco, and currently serves as chair of the San Francisco-Thessaloniki Sister City Association, dedicated to bringing “sister city activities important to (both cities) including municipal, business, trade, educational and cultural exchanges.”
“I live my life striving to meet the ideals of philotimo,” says Roumeliotes, from her office in San Francisco, predominantly staffed by women (“I am extremely proud of the feminine power and strength that has blossomed out of SGR consulting over the years”). “My calling to work in politics and philanthropy is part of this belief that serving my community, my state, and my country gives meaning to life and stretches beyond my own self.”
Born and raised in Belmont, California, she attended Belmont Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church, and got her degree in World Arts & Cultures from UCLA. She now lives in Hillsborough, California with her husband, Dr. John Costouros, and their six-year-old twins Gia and James.
How would you describe SGR Consulting and its mission? What made you start it?
I started the firm when I was 27 years old and we just celebrated our 17th year in business. It really was an organic process of finding my entrepreneurial self within the game of politics. I think most of us search for the right career while trying to do something that meets our skill set. But for me, it was wondering, how am I going to get up every single day and feel purposeful? What is my purpose on this earth? What I didn’t fully understand at the start of my career was that I am a natural-born activist and entrepreneur who is driven by the desire to be a part of making good change within my everyday work life.
Fundraising came naturally. After spending five years working on campaigns across Northern California, I identified that there seemed to be a consistent need for a young, inexpensive, reliable, organized and hardworking person. I started my fundraising consulting company in March 2004 with the thought that I could provide that same needed skill set to a variety of campaigns.
But you’re also a political strategist?
Now, 21 years later, my role in politics has expanded beyond asking someone for money. Having an understanding of someone’s interest and passions is part of the strategic work I do. I deeply value my relationships within the different donor communities as much as I do the candidates and causes we represent at the firm. I will only ask a donor to support an effort or candidate that I know align with their same interests and values.
And you also do crisis management and communications?
Our work has evolved from basic fundraising into high level development, crisis management and communications strategy in both the political and non-profit sectors. It’s funny because fundraising usually comes into play when someone’s calling on you to help them achieve a money goal or fix a budget deficit. A lot of times the potential client is in a financial crisis but really that crisis exists because of an organization or communications breakdown. SGR Consulting has mastered the strategy of helping our clients create financial plans and tight systems to achieve their imminent goals while also developing fundraising programs to last them for years to come.
Speaking of crisis, what’s the status of Gov. Newsom’s recall effort?
I have been lucky enough to work with Governor Gavin Newsom in different roles since 2005 and have seen him face unprecedented crises head on. Now in my role as one of Governor Newsom’s Senior Finance Strategists, I can tell you he is focused on COVID-19 relief, economic recovery, and tackling California’s biggest challenges. Governor Newsom has been valiantly leading our state, working day and night to vaccinate Californians and end the pandemic once and for all.
Will there be a recall?
Unfortunately, there will most likely be an election this fall to recall Governor Newsom. Instead of focusing our time on getting the State back on track, we will be raising $50 million to educate voters on what a recall is and how dangerous it could be if we lose Governor Newsom’s leadership. The people who are behind recalling the Governor are extremists, many who stormed the U.S. Capitol Building this past January with known connections to white supremacy.
How does it look?
This is a very intense time, and with everything that has happened in this country over the last four years, we cannot take anything for granted. From President Joe Biden to Vice President Kamala Harris to Lieutenant Governor Kounalakis, Democrats are rallying behind Governor Newsom and standing up against the Recall. Governor Newsom has earned the trust of Californians, and I have no doubt they will have his back should the Recall make it to the ballot.
What are notable candidate campaigns you worked for and who are some of the elected officials you are involved with now?
In 2000, I got my start in professional politics working for U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and then moved on to work for Former California State Treasurer Phil Angelides. In 2007 and 2008, I served as the Northwestern Finance Director for the Hillary Clinton for President campaign. I have served on the National Finance Committee for both Hillary Clinton for President 2016 and the Biden Harris Victory Fund 2020.
Today, I am proud to work with some of the most inspiring and incredible leaders and public servants in the country from CA Governor Gavin Newsom, to CA Lieutenant Governor Kounalakis, to U.S. Senator Alex Padilla, to Mayor London Breed of San Francisco.
What campaign is a personal highlight for you?
In 2018, I worked to elect Ambassador Eleni Kounalakis to be the Lieutenant Governor of California. It was a point of immense personal pride to help elect a Greek American woman who is also my dear friend and mentor, to be the first female Lieutenant Governor of the 5th largest economy in the world. Eleni is one of the hardest-working and most beloved Lieutenant Governors that California has ever had!
What are the strides that women have made in American politics so far and how can they continue that progress? Does the Harris ascendancy to VP herald a new age of politics for women candidates?
We have a long way to go until we achieve gender equity and gender parity in this country. From the corporate world to public office, women are underrepresented, even more so for women of color. The election of Kamala Harris, the first Black and first Indian woman to win the Vice Presidency, is historic and should be celebrated. Seeing her take the oath of office and knowing that so many women and young girls saw themselves reflected for the first time will have profound impacts on our next generation of leaders. But they will need support, guidance, and a system that will help them succeed. We need to redefine what a successful politician looks like. It may not always be a man in a suit––it might be a working mom in sneakers.
How do you change the game?
The way to change the game is to recruit and support women candidates who are authentically themselves and who can share their stories with the public. Fundraising allows us to work closely with candidates, and the strongest candidates know why they are called to public office and why they are fit to serve. This allows them to walk into any room with the confidence that they belong.
How did you survive the Trump win over Hillary? What did you learn from it as a political consultant?
The 2016 election was brutal. The floor fell out from underneath so many of us and refocused all of our energy for the next four years. It felt like a nightmare. Living it day in and day out was tough. While the painful losses that come with this industry can be opportunities for growth and change, they historically come at the expense of minority communities and vulnerable populations. It is imperative that we fight to protect everything we care about because our institutions, systems, and norms can be shattered much faster than I think many of us had realized.
How do we protect our democracy?
The work to protect our democracy means focusing on all the incredible candidates who stepped up in the aftermath of Trump’s win. We’ve seen just how impactful local school boards, county commissions, and state governments are. Fundraising plays a critical role in who we elect because who we choose to support financially makes a difference in who is successful at the ballot box. My focus at SGR Consulting is to continually work with and support candidates who are committed to building a more inclusive and safe world.
Is the fundraising and political strategy different for women candidates?
It took almost 250 years for this country to elect a woman to the Executive Branch of our Government! Women have made long strides in making millions of cracks in the glass ceiling––but we unfortunately still have a long way to go. I am proud to have played a part in helping to elect the first African-American woman Mayor of San Francisco and first female Lieutenant Governor of California in 2018. It is really an incredible feeling to break barriers and show people a different side of leadership.
How has the pandemic affected current politics?
COVID-19 has exposed society’s inequalities when it comes to income, gender, and race. Women across the board have borne the brunt of the pandemic and that applies to women candidates and political operatives too. Women were the first to have to leave the workforce to home school their children. Most had to put their careers on pause or maybe not return at all. Domestic violence against women and children has been the shadow pandemic during the crisis and at the same time our country is undergoing a racial justice reckoning.
What is the current state of politics and race and women?
As more women, particularly women of color, continue to step into the political arena, we must meet them with tools and strategies to help them succeed. Understanding how to handle the challenges of childcare, personal obligations, and societal pressures gives me a unique opportunity to connect with a female candidate differently than I would if I were a man. We continue to make progress in electing more and more women to office but we cannot take our foot off the gas.
Was it an intentional choice for your staff to be predominantly women?
Quickly after starting SGR Consulting, I realized how many young women were working in campaign politics and I knew within the first year that the company must create an environment for women to bond, flourish and rise. I then intentionally created a team culture, where young women could be mentored, trained, and feel empowered to grow within our political and philanthropic ecosystem––and where they would forever be a part of the SGR family.
And many of your former staffers have thrived?
I am extremely proud of the feminine power and strength that has blossomed out of SGR Consulting over the years. Many of our former employees have moved on to attend top business and law schools, work in the California Governor and Lieutenant Governor’s offices, and to lead national organizations like Emerge America.
Do you ever imagine running for office yourself?
I did consider running for office many years ago, but came to the realization that the best use of my instincts, talent and skills was to work on campaigns and help propel others into elected office. I find the most joy and fulfillment from working with incredible leaders who are called to serve in public office. Master planning and creating successful strategies for candidates, initiatives and causes is ultimately what makes me tick. I’m an operative at heart. When all is said and done, the experience of owning and running SGR Consulting and the years I’ve spent in politics have helped me unveil my inner warrior and understand my own grit in the game of life.
And your own Greek power?
My Greek tribe helped me break into politics. Greek community leaders like Angelo Tsakopoulos, George Marcus, Lieutenant Governor Kounalakis and my extended Greek family––such as my koumbara, Kristin Bertolina and my nona, Tula Mouroufas––helped guide me. Knowing I had a strong soundboard in my most early and vulnerable years in campaign politics gave me the foundational support I needed to ultimately succeed. I will be forever grateful to my Greek community.
What is your background?
I am the daughter of Valerie and Demetri Roumeliotes. My mother was born in Boston and both of her parents immigrated to America from Epirus, Greece. My father was born on the island of Lesvos and came to the United States at 12 years old through Ellis Island. Both of my parents moved to California from the Northeast in the late 1960’s. I grew up spending my summers with relatives on the beaches of Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts learning all about my family’s journey from Greece and what it was like to assimilate and prosper in American society.
Did you visit Greece growing up?
Although I did not visit Greece until I was a teenager, I was raised with a deep connection and love for my Greek culture and heritage. Growing up Greek in America was a joy–a continuous celebration of family, friends and life. I was very involved in the Belmont Holy Cross Greek Orthodox church, attended Sunday school every week and even competed in Greek dance from a little girl until I was done with college. As many Greek Americans have experienced, there was always an abundance of pride in being Greek!
Was politics and fundraising your first calling?
To be honest, I was always caught between politics and the performing arts. I ran for student office every year from sixth grade to senior year of high school, alongside auditioning for musical theater roles and competing in dance. There is a similar beat and cadence to politics and the performing arts. Attracted to both, the parallel evolved into a desire to combine movement, energy and purpose.
How has your Greek heritage contributed to your ideals?
I have tremendous pride in our Greek heritage and the values instilled in me. For many years, I have been involved in helping to rebuild the Annunciation Cathedral of the San Francisco Metropolis located in the heart of the Mission District in San Francisco. I have also supported many philanthropic efforts of the Annunciation Cathedral’s Philoptochos.
I serve as the Chair of the San Francisco – Thessaloniki Sister City Association. The late Mayor Ed Lee of San Francisco appointed me to this position in 2017. I am honored to be working with leaders in our community such as George Marcus, Lieutenant Governor Kounalakis and Victor Makras to foster a strong relationship between our City and Thessaloniki. It is my goal to support projects and initiatives that help create smarter, healthier, and more innovative communities. We are currently planning an official delegation trip to Thessaloniki and other parts of Greece with Mayor Breed of San Francisco.
What do you do when you’re not working?
When I do get downtime, I love watching a good thriller or going on a long walk. My daily workouts keep me strong and sane. I must admit, my greatest joy is spending uninterrupted time with my kids or turning up the music and dancing my heart out with them. Before the pandemic, I had a more robust social life and often traveled to Mexico and the Napa Valley.
I was lucky enough to spend the summer of 2019 in Greece. I can’t wait to return to the Motherland to breathe in the sea air, bathe in the gorgeous sunlight and gather with friends and family for delicious meals.