Originally known as the Trillium Foundation, the organization started with humble beginnings in 1982. The economic conditions of the early 80s had adversely affected the voluntary social service sector. Government funding and private sector donations had decreased. It was a time when many charities, large and small, were concerned about their ability to secure funds to enable them to carry on their existing programs and to meet essential community needs.
The concept of a foundation funded through government lotteries - but managed and directed by volunteers - developed that year as a result of a series of meetings between volunteers from nine charitable organizations and the Ontario Ministry of Tourism and Recreation. The charitable organizations represented in those meetings all had an interest in either obtaining or maintaining private charitable province-wide lottery licenses as a means of generating revenue for support of the services they provided to the community.
The Government of Ontario recognized that an opportunity existed to do something unique in the public interest. It proposed the allocation of funds for social services to be administered by an arms-length agency. This led to the establishment of the Trillium Foundation, which was received with great enthusiasm.