I was listening to NPR’s On Point with Sacha Pfeiffer last month on innovation. Her guest was Mark Stevenson, a U.K.-based futurist who caught my attention by saying he doesn’t think of himself as a futurist, but as someone who tries to help people figure out “what questions the future is asking us” and to find answers from there.

Stevenson then offered examples of fresh thinking leading to real innovation. His examples resonate with a definition of “innovator” that I have always liked. Many years ago, Margaret Mahoney, then President of the Commonwealth Fund, described innovators as people fixed on good results who move the world forward by defining problems differently. They are not necessarily inventors themselves, but rather connectors between invention and society in order to transform the possible into the real.

The key is in reframing, in a new perspective, in asking questions and thinking about problems in new ways.

Over the years, The Philanthropic Initiative (TPI) has had the good fortune to work with many funders and corporate leaders who have been innovators in their own right, or who have been drawn to those in the social sector who are finding new and promising solutions to critical issues. One example was a donor who wanted to increase the odds of success in college and beyond for talented inner-city youth. Rather than create a conventional scholarship program, TPI helped this donor explore challenges faced by low-income, minority students once they arrive on campus.

To be open to new perspectives, we like to encourage funders to approach their philanthropy with a “beginner’s mind.” When one thinks like a novice, anything seems possible and the mind is open to ideas and opportunities.

Read the full article about innovative and strategic philanthropy by Leslie Pine at The Philanthropic Initiative.