The Trump administration posed an unprecedented challenge to many international organisations (IOs). This article analyses the ability of IOs to respond and explains variation in the survival strategies pursued by their institutional actors. It argues that leadership, organisational structure, competences and external networks affect whether institutional actors can formulate and implement responses to existential challenges. Providing evidence from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and World Trade Organisation (WTO), this article shows how institutional actors varied in their ability to pursue survival strategies toward Trump. NATO officials publicly leveraged the Trump challenge on burden-sharing while quietly shielding the alliance from Trump on Russia policy. UNFCCC officials considered United States withdrawal from the Paris Agreement to be inevitable and focused on preventing further withdrawals through coalitions with non-state actors. WTO officials lacked the leadership and organisational structure to formulate a strategic response.