Voluntary certification programs are one type of intervention used to incentivize the agricultural commodity sector in tropical landscapes to reduce deforestation and improve sustainability. Cases of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) voluntary certification program in Indonesia and the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN), voluntary certification for cattle in Brazil are used to contrast the role taken in two significantly different programs to design features of the program to render sustainability outcomes. While producers in both countries follow a similar path towards compliance with certification standards, only the RSPO program offers enticements for producers to participate in the intermediate stages of compliance by offering membership in its affiliated industry roundtable. Design choices about the core activities of a program (adoption, implementation, and enforcement and monitoring) that are ancillary to standards setting are found to be opportunities for providing benefits to both producers and civil society stakeholders without compromising the program’s rigor. A framework is proposed to understand voluntary certification programs as both creators and brokers of benefits between producers and other sustainability stakeholders, potentially providing an approach to simultaneously increase participation and maintain program rigor.