The Centre was established as a social business by Foundation North.  Foundation North is the largest philanthropic foundation in Australasia, with an endowment in excess of a billion dollars. The Foundation was founded in 1988 and endowed with funds from the sale of the Auckland and Northland community’s shares in the Auckland Savings Bank to the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

The Foundation distributes between $35 million and $40 million each year into the Auckland and Northland communities. Any incorporated society or charitable trust in Auckland and Northland can apply for funds, provided they are a not-for-profit organisation.

Since 2008 the Foundation has provided multi-year funding and support to selected organisations to pilot innovative approaches to complex social issues.  This high-engagement ‘venture philanthropy’ saw the Foundation move from simply providing funding, to moving into partnership with selected not-for-profits. The Foundation worked alongside each high engagement partner to help them enhance their capacity and capability to deliver their programmes and to evaluate the social impact and economic return from the Foundation's investment.

The Foundation established the Centre for Social Impact in 2014 to support both the Foundation's high engagement investments and to support other foundations, individuals and organisations investing for social change.