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Most people think of philanthropists and charitable foundations as wielding clout through the money they give to programs and causes.

But charitable foundations typically donate only 5 percent of their investment assets annually, the legal minimum required to keep their tax status. That leaves the bulk of their wealth untapped and unpurposed.

At a recent conference for new philanthropists at the Chicago Hilton, Chicago Community Trust CEO Terry Mazany and Ariel Investments founder John Rogers argued that those mountains of sedentary assets could be put toward a social cause, eliminating racial income inequality, by inviting minority-owned investment firms to manage a portion of that capital.

Mazany encouraged the 100-plus young people in the audience to ask their employers' chief financial officers: How many minority fund managers do we have in our portfolio?

"None. Oh, geez. Does that mean there aren't any good ones?" Mazany said, mimicking a plausible conversation. "Naievete goes a long way in getting some points across without being overly combative and aggressive."

Rogers, who is African-American and manages money for the Community Trust, said diversity in Chicago's finance industry is abysmal.

"So to everybody who says young people of color shouldn't be practicing sports, there are clearly many more (African-American) professional football and basketball players in Chicago than there are partners in this field of our economy" in Chicago, Rogers said.

Rogers called for investment committees to adopt the NFL's "Rooney Rule" when it comes to hiring money managers.

When an NFL team has a head coaching vacancy, "they have to interview at least one minority candidate," Rogers said. "Then the general manager and owner can pick whoever they want. That's what we need to do with the investment business."

Melissa Harris can be reached at or 312-222-4582. Twitter @chiconfidential