Local people's preferences for how revenue from payments for environmental services (PES) schemes is distributed and used, and their ability to influence spending decisions, can shape the scheme's effectiveness in achieving forest management and poverty reduction goals. We examine how the interplay between institutions, norms, and decision-making processes influences the outcomes of PES in Son La Province, Vietnam. Using information gathered in focus group discussions and interviews, we find that decisions are shaped by the perceived trustworthiness and capability of village authorities and by local definitions of "equity". Our analysis also suggests that combining revenue-distribution options may be more likely to result in effective, efficient, and equitable outcomes while also supporting rural development. Our findings offer useful lessons for benefit sharing for REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation). PES and REDD+ revenues could be most effective when considered as supplements to budgets for social and economic development programs.