Taking part in the implementation of a voluntary policy instrument for land use management implies motivational requirements of the targeted landowner. Increasing knowledge on the potential economic, managerial and attitudinal factors helps design incentives in accordance and facilitates an effective performance. We analyzed surveys and interviews addressed to private forest owners, at country or regional level in five European countries. Participation rates for different schemes aimed at enhancing the provision of ecosystem services were contrasted with a range of landowners’ socio-economic, forest management variables, as well as with the instrument design characteristics. Results show larger participation trends in mechanisms that promote a forest ecosystem service while simultaneously augments benefits enjoyed by the landowner. Being involved in some type of forestry association increases the likelihood of engaging in the policy mechanism, especially for small and medium size landowners. Correlation patterns were found for variables representing active forest management and activity-enhancing instruments. We argue that these factors explain an alignment of the landowner either with the instrument objectives or the land management measures they promote. It demonstrates that the design of mechanisms bolstering synergies between current landowners’ practices and expectations to those demanded by externals have more likelihood of success than those implying drastic management changes. On the other hand, this pre-existing alignment may challenge the efficiency of the policy intervention if most of the expected added value would require targeting not aligned landowners.