Payments for ecosystem services programs have become common tools but most have failed to achieve wide-ranging conservation outcomes. The capacity for scale and impact increases when PES programs are designed through the lens of the potential participants, yet this has received little attention in research or practice. Our work with small-scale marine fisheries integrates the social science of PES programs and provides a framework for designing programs that focus a priori on scaling. In addition to payments, desirable non-monetary program attributes and ecological feedbacks attract a wider range of potential participants into PES programs, including those who have more negative attitudes and lower trust. Designing programs that draw individuals into participating in PES programs is likely the most strategic path to reaching scale. Research should engage in new models of participatory research to understand these dynamics and to design programs that explicitly integrate a broad range of needs, values, and modes of implementation.