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Management Philanthropy executive grants herself the gifts of music, hockey and running

Dahna Goldstein, Altum’s director of philanthropy solutions, started indie folk rock band Fire in the River with friends she met while playing hockey.

Mai-Trang Dang, e komo mai photography

24/7 Executives is a series of stories on high-performing professionals who are as serious at play as they are in the conference room. See the other stories here.

More than a decade after moving south of the Canadian border, Dahna Goldstein finally fulfilled a long-repressed desire to play hockey.

"My mother will shoot me if this ends up in the article," says Ms. Goldstein, 41, with a laugh, during a telephone interview from her home in Silver Spring, Md., near Washington, D.C. "Growing up in Montreal, I was a huge Canadiens fan. I remember standing in the kitchen as a teenager looking at a flyer that came in the mail. It was hockey season for girls, but even though my mother was a staunch feminist who would say, 'Anything boys can do, girls can do better,' I was informed it was not a feminine enough sport for me.

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"Later in 2006, here in D.C., I stumbled on this women's ice hockey league that was open to beginners, bought a bag of gear from a guy on Craigslist, and started playing."

Now the captain of the women's team in the novice division, Ms. Goldstein plays at least once a week, year-round. As the founder and chief executive officer of PhilanTech, a grant management software company acquired last year by Altum, where she is the director of philanthropy solutions, her love of the sport has proved fortuitous for a number of reasons.

For starters, it was an excellent way to stay in shape while running a business that absorbed all her time and energy. Ms. Goldstein launched PhilanTech in 2004 to address a huge problem in the non-profit sector – the high transaction costs of applying for, receiving and administering grants.

Of the $47-billion (U.S.) in grants awarded annually in the United States, about 13 per cent is spent on administering the grant. Rather than rely on spreadsheets to manage the grant-writing process, Ms. Goldstein's system streamlines the process online from start to finish, and ensures continuity and easy searchability between years of previously written grant applications. It helps both non-profits and grant makers operate more efficiently and reduce costs, rerouting funds into programs and services instead of bureaucracy.

Every year, Ms. Goldstein has run an annual "ugliest tracking spreadsheet" contest – the winner gets the software free. "There's some incredibly ugly, complex and inefficient spreadsheets out there. We've gotten entries from around the world – last year's winner was an organization working in Africa.

"Our software provides tracking tools, reminders and ways to get everyone involved in the grant process."

It took Ms. Goldstein three sleepless years to come up with a workable product, which then coincided with the economy tanking in late 2007.

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"In those times, when you're totally wrapped up in your business, exercise falls by the wayside. It can be hard to get perspective or stay healthy," she says.

Hockey became her outlet. "Hockey is fun, social and physically intense. There are other people skating at you – so if I think about anything that's not about playing hockey, I will get hit. Many times I've walked into the rink obsessing about something, like the right way to frame a difficult conversation – and then, after not thinking about it while skating, the solution will just pop into my head afterward."

To get into better physical condition to support her habit, Ms. Goldstein also took up running. She stays interested in pounding the pavement through the use of a smartphone app called RunKeeper that helps her draw pictures with her chosen routes, much like an Etch A Sketch. So far, Ms. Goldstein has created a dog, car, sailboat and the numbers 2015 for a run she did on New Year's Day. She posts the sketches on Facebook to share with friends.

Her love of hockey has also made possible another pastime – music. It was while playing hockey that she met her future band mates, who went on to form an indie folk rock group called Fire in the River, for which Ms. Goldstein is the lead singer and guitarist.

"We play fairly regularly around the D.C. area at bars and festivals – sometimes we get paid, sometimes it's just for fun. I think it's really important to do things outside of work – there's a value from both a physical and mental health perspective, when you change your framework," says Ms. Goldstein, who is also juggling a family and raising her two-month-old son with her wife, a human rights lawyer.

Ms. Goldstein moved from Montreal at 19 to pursue her postsecondary education in the United States, including degrees from Williams College, Harvard University and New York University's Stern School of Business. She credits the emphasis her family placed on her education for her success thus far.

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Her father, Yoine, a top bankruptcy lawyer and former Canadian senator, was a first generation Canadian whose family immigrated from Ukraine and struggled to make ends meet. "He was driven to provide for his family a different upbringing than he had – he wanted my brother and I to have everything, because he had nothing," she says.

"The only limitation my parents placed on me and my brother was to do the best we could. They really emphasized going to the best schools we could, pursuing advanced degrees, and making the most of ourselves while giving back to the community.

"My father has always been very involved in the Montreal Jewish community and got us involved in fundraising from a young age. It was a combination of that desire to give something back and to create something new that planted the seeds for my entrepreneurial ambitions.

"Grant management software seems like an unsexy, back-office topic – but what we're doing is directly helping organizations feed kids, save rain forests, curb domestic abuse, among many other causes. … We're helping them gain access to more resources, in order to do more of the good work they're already doing in their communities."

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