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Hiltz Prepares Students to Lead Nonprofit Organizations

Barb Hiltz, Assistant Professor

Barb Hiltz joined the U-M SSW faculty in September 2015 after spending 17 years working in direct practice social work and as executive director for several nonprofits.

“My students are hungry to know what it’s like out there. I think they appreciate the years I’ve spent in the trenches,” Hiltz said.

Despite being on the other side, as Hiltz puts it, she has always sought opportunities to work with students. She’s been field advising at U-M since 2003, and in 2011 became an adjunct faculty member.

“I’ve always enjoyed working directly with students and the new ideas they share,” Hiltz said.  “I always learn something from them that pushes me to think differently. The move into teaching meant that I would be around that all the time, and that was really exciting.”

Hiltz made the move into teaching in part because she feels strongly about preparing the next generation of social workers to manage and lead nonprofit organizations from a social work value-based position.

“Social workers bring values of social justice, dignity, empowerment, compassion and the worth of people into their decision-making process with regard to managing the business side of an organization,” Hiltz said. “They have to make decisions about where to spend money and what services to provide. The inclusion of social work values is critically important because these decisions are impacting people’s lives.”

Hiltz also is interested in innovation around fundraising and nonprofit sustainability.

“So many organizations have no sustainable sources of revenue,” Hiltz said. “Every year they start at zero and have to raise 100 percent of their operating budgets. We talk about new ideas that will generate sales and provide funding that enables organizations to continue doing social good.”

A prime example is The Bride’s Project, a social enterprise co-founded by Hiltz in 2011 when she was executive director of the Cancer Support Community (CSC) of Greater Ann Arbor.  

The Bride’s Project collects once-worn wedding gowns donated from across the country. The dresses are cleaned, mended and then sold at roughly half the cost of new.  All sales go to CSC programs and services that support cancer patients through treatment and recovery.

“Last year we raised about 25 percent of our budget with Brides,” Hiltz said. That’s money we don’t have to raise through grant writing or soliciting donations. And people feel really good about what the dress represents The Bride’s Project is building a community and helping people.”

Hiltz was named the School of Social Work Student Union 2016 Teacher of the Year.

“I’m so glad that students seem to love being in my classes because this is what I love doing,” Hiltz said. I was nervous about leaving community work to teach, but I’m so happy here at U-M, and this award tells me that I made the right choice.”

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