Charity Champions: Steve Ragan on What It Really Means To Be a Fundraiser

The Plymouth native was co-nominated by ASG Renaissance, Oakland University, Rose Hill Center, and SAY Detroit for the Dr. John S. Lore Award for Outstanding Fundraising Executive
Steve Ragan
Steve Ragan

Each year, the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ greater Detroit chapter honors southeastern Michigan’s most dedicated volunteers, philanthropists, and fundraising professionals with its annual awards. Hour Detroit is pleased to partner with AFP to introduce 2021’s slate of charity champions ahead of National Philanthropy Day on Nov. 21.

Receiving this year’s Dr. John S. Lore Award for Outstanding Fundraising Executive is an especially personal honor for Steve Ragan: Lore was the friend and mentor who first sat Ragan down and asked if he’d ever considered a career in development. 

“I honestly thought he meant real estate development,” says Ragan, a Plymouth native who had some previous experience in political fundraising. The two began regular breakfast meetings where Lore — a powerhouse fundraiser who held many leadership positions at health systems in the region — would share his experiences. 

“I always wanted to do something where I had some impact in the community, and John convinced me that this was the way to do that — and have a very rewarding career,” Ragan says.  

His mentor knew what he was talking about. Over the course of Ragan’s 30 years in philanthropy, he has helped raise hundreds of millions of dollars to benefit Eastern Michigan University, Lawrence Technological University, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Focus: Hope, and Hope Network as well as local health systems and other nonprofits. 

Not only that, but he has been an active board member and volunteer at many community organizations. That involvement is something he learned from Lore. “He encouraged me to stay very involved in the community and become a board member myself,” Ragan says. “I wish more fundraisers did that. I learned so much from that that had such an impact on my professional work as well.”

It’s advice he shares with the many people he’s mentored over the years, too. “There can be a tendency to get so wrapped up in the work in your organization,” he says. “The best fundraisers I’ve known are really engaged in their communities.” That often results in greater collaboration, which is something donors want to see now more than ever, he says. 

Ragan has also poured much of his time and talents into building the fundraising world by volunteering with Association of Fundraising Professionals chapters in Detroit as well as in New Orleans, where he worked for a few years to rebuild the city after Hurricane Katrina. He was the president of the organization’s greater Detroit chapter last year, and under his leadership, AFP made all of its programming free during the pandemic, allowing thousands of professionals to access training and support during a turbulent time for nonprofits and fundraising. “I’m really proud of how our community responded and how we as a chapter responded,” Ragan says. 

Working in development, Ragan says, is so much more than most people think. “When they learn I’m a fundraiser, they think that I spend all of my time asking people for money,” he says. “The reality is I spend much more time thanking people.”

This story is part of our Give Detroit package and is featured in the November 2021 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more stories in our digital edition.