About crystal hayling

Crystal Headshot1 color

Crystal Hayling is a creative, values-driven leader with a track record of investing private and corporate charitable contributions for maximum impact. In her roles as a Board member, CEO, Senior Advisor and program officer, she has built bridges between disparate people and unlikely institutions to create dramatically better solutions for those who most need help. In California, across the US, and most recently in Asia, Ms. Hayling is an advisor and speaker on philanthropy, nonprofit policy and social innovation. Areas of content expertise include: health care, corporate social responsibility, women’s rights, youth, poverty and aging.

Strategic Grantmaking

As CEO of the Blue Shield of California Foundation, Ms. Hayling took a strong stand that access to health care must be universal, affordable and high quality. She crafted a multi-pronged approach to building support for universal health care coverage in America. The core of that approach was distributing more than $100 million to strengthen the health care safety net. But that was just the beginning. In addition to creating an informal working group of CEOs from the top 5 health foundations in California, she funded an innovative statewide 21st century town hall that brought together a cross-section of 3,500 citizens with then-Governor Schwarzenegger and legislators of both parties to discuss practical policy solutions to difficult health care problems. She also brought national experts and veterans of Massachusetts’ reform efforts for working sessions with Sacramento staffers. These initiatives gave California lawmakers the courage to pursue universal coverage. Though it ultimately fell one vote short of passing in 2007, many considered this effort the dry-run for the successful national health care reform passed in 2010. Indeed, many of the national policy players had been foundation grantees. Ms. Hayling’s grantees actively shared the lessons learned in California with lawmakers and the Obama administration.

Early in her career, Ms. Hayling advanced a new approach to combating youth violence when she helped create the Violence Prevention Initiative, funded by a consortium including The California Wellness Foundation, The California Endowment and the James Irvine Foundation. Through this partnership, she put into action what was until then an academic theory—that violence was a public health problem and thus a cluster of upstream programs would be more efficient than the criminal justice system at reducing violence in California. Ms. Hayling co-led this $30 million, 5-year effort that included groundbreaking statistical analysis on violence and liquor licensing (location and operating hours), citizen mediation, advocacy for smarter gun laws, and the creation of the California Peace Prize to recognize grassroots community leaders whose efforts were reducing gang and family violence. 

Technology Smarts

Ms. Hayling believes technology can be a powerful tool to address social problems and right inequality. She has been an early advocate of corporate and philanthropic adoption of social media to increase effectiveness and transparency. She was an early blogger on SF Gate, the San Francisco Chronicle’s online edition and she remains active on Twitter.

This studied embrace of technology goes beyond media. As Director of the Medi-Cal Policy Institute, Ms. Hayling oversaw the development of Health-e-App (now known as One-e-App)—this was California’s first Web-based Medi-Cal application, and it reduced the enrollment time from a few months to just a few days. Not only were eligible Californians and their children receiving health care 30-60 days sooner than before, but the process itself was qualitatively improved by this public/private partnership. In Ms. Hayling’s view, the social sector doesn’t need to act more like the private sector, it just needs to creatively deploy the same tools when those tools can improve the lives of poor and disenfranchised people.

Community Empowerment

During her 20+ years’ experience in nonprofits and philanthropy, Ms. Hayling’s fundamental mission has been to partner with those most effected by poverty and injustice to amplify their voices and build their self-determination. The ability of communities to solve their own problems when given the right tools was a lesson she learned well as Associate Director of the California Self-Help Center and Senior Advisor to the Marguerite Casey Foundation.

Women and youth play a uniquely important role in shaping a productive society. Her first job in philanthropy was as a member of the start-up staff of the Los Angeles Women’s Foundation (now the California Women’s Foundation) and she was an early board member of Youth Radio, a Peabody award-winning youth-driven nonprofit media company. Ms. Hayling believes the best programs share the following characteristics: engage citizens in rigorously analyzing complex problems, employ a gender and generational lens, and support exceptional leaders.

Leadership Excellence

Ms. Hayling has a demonstrated track record in growing and supporting social sector leaders through training, coaching and recognition. In 2007, she led the creation of the Clinic Leadership Institute to prepare the next generation of community clinic leaders. Previously, she managed the nonprofit capacity building portfolio while at the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund and developed the Management Assistance Program to increase the capacity of small, women-led nonprofits while heading the program team at the Los Angeles Women’s Foundation.

Raising the bar on governance has been a high priority for Ms. Hayling. She has served on numerous local and national boards including Grantmakers in Health. In her role as a Board Member of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, she encourages foundation leaders to utilize grantee feedback to improve their own organizational effectiveness. She strongly believes leadership excellence requires having the proper tools for successful execution.

Going Global

Always seeking diverse and cross-cultural environments, Ms. Hayling has lived and worked in China, Southeast Asia and Mexico City. She has recently returned from six years in Singapore where she consulted with social enterprises and foundations. Currently, as a Board Member of the Asian Venture Philanthropy Network she is helping to highlight successful social entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia and stimulate the burgeoning field of philanthropy. As a Board Member of the Lien Centre for Social Innovation, part of Singapore Management University, she spearheaded the research report Levers for Change: Philanthropic Policy in Selected Southeast Asian Countries which identified philanthropic policies in emerging economies that are helping or hindering the growth of philanthropy and civil society.

Seeking her start-up expertise, The Aspen Institute has enlisted her as a managing director to launch a new Environment Leaders Fellowship that will bring together cohorts of next generation leaders to tackle global climate challenges.


A graduate of Yale University and Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, she is also a Henry Crown Fellow of the Aspen Institute.

A sought-after public speaker, she has presented at numerous conferences and facilitated expert panels. Her acceptance speech for the James Joseph Award entitled, “Five Things We Know But Keep Forgetting,” is a manifesto for change in the field of philanthropy which has been widely reprinted and included in the Council on Foundations’ emerging leaders course.

She can be found on Twitter @chayling or you can also email her at crystal@c2projects.com.


  1. Maria Lemus

    love your comments. the mother-professional thing is a challenge…but you will find what best suits you. when i first met you i was in my 6year of 8 years as an at home mom to three children. it was a blessing to have that time. it allowed me to accept what was to come next. being with your dad is part of the process.

    love your watch. enjoy y cuidate!


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