The successful implementation of contract-based nature conservation in privately-owned forests requires a framework of reasonable operational measures. Our study aimed at developing such a framework by; 1) defining forest conservation objects including structures, processes, and habitat types, 2) assessing their conservation value based on the need for, and worthiness of, protection, 3) reviewing the suitability of contract-based measures for conservation. Overall, we defined 67 conservation objects, with 8 of them used as case studies: deadwood, habitat trees, natural succession after large-scale disturbance, coppice-with-standards, bog and fen woodlands, dry sand pine forests, and beech forests. We considered contract-based conservation suitable if, within the contract period, outcomes of measures resulted in ecological upgrading or avoidance of value loss. We identified contract-based conservation suitable for 42 combinations of objects and measures. Our approach of assessing the potential of contract-based measures for forest conservation is novel with regards to its broad range of objects, defined criteria, and various contract periods. It can help to progress conservation and improve outcomes of measures, especially in privately-owned forests in Germany. Further prerequisites are sufficient financial resources, effective administration, consultancy and the mid- to long-term stability of funding programmes.