The ECDFWG began as a collaboration of eight family foundations with a mix of regional and national mandates, different sized endowments and granting levels, and varied histories as foundations and in funding early child development. At the invitation of the Lawson Foundation and Margaret and Wallace McCain Family Foundation, these foundations met with other foundations and related organizations in Toronto in 2009 to explore how they could expand the effectiveness of their philanthropy with respect to young children. Subsequently, seven original member foundations joined the Margaret & Wallace McCain Family Foundation to prepare and promote Early Years Study 3 which was published in 2011. Over the years, foundations have come together in different combinations outside the ECDFWG to co-fund and collaborate on different early childhood initiatives.

Between 2015 and 2021, the ECDFWG explored new ways of expanding their collaboration and taking on a stronger collective advocacy role, co-authoring three open letters and commissioning one joint research project

In 2022, the ECDFWG undertook an exploration with current members to review how the group would continue working in the future. The group decided to maintain its focus on sharing knowledge and resources as a group of philanthropic foundations supporting early child development while some foundations continue to pursue additional collaborations outside the ECDFWG.