Payments to rural landholders for provision of environmental services are accepted as part of the policy "toolbox" for improving natural resource management in Australia. However, there remains uncertainty about how best to deliver payments for environmental services, including whether the recently implemented market-based instruments (MBI) deliver better outcomes than traditional approaches. Our findings reveal a considerable difference in opinion about the effectiveness of MBIs for engaging rural landholders in environmental programs. We found that programs tend to focus on "purchasing" short-term changes in behavior without sufficient regard as to whether landholders would continue with recommended environmental practices in the long-term, especially when programs cease. We conclude that with increased understanding of the social dimension of voluntary programs, some key issues can be addressed so that programs engender a long-term commitment by landholders to improved environmental management.