Phyliss Cattanach of Grantown on Spey founded Cattanach in 1991. She was the last survivor of her immediate family. Phyliss wished to use the family wealth she had inherited from interests in the whisky industry for the benefit of society. Upon her death in 2008, Phyliss left the residue of her estate to Cattanach, doubling its size.

The Trust Deed by which Cattanach was established gives the Trustees wide scope for charitable giving. The trustees reviewed the funding landscape and evidence base and decided on a themed approach that focuses on the early years of a child's life, a critical period of development that influences mental health and wellbeing across the lifespan.

Originally established as a trust, Cattanach became a Scottish Incorporated Charitable Organisation (SCIO) in 2020.