The Federal Register contains all requests for proposals, from all federal departments, that are issued in a given year. It must be voluminous, but most writers have never seen the entire Register. Instead, you will receive or download individual RFPs for individual grant programs.
If you receive an RFP package in the mail, it is usually bound and saddle stitched as a small booklet; online, it comes as a simple PDF file. It contains all the information found in the Federal Register about that particular grant program, including the following:
Program number (CFDA number)
Purpose of the grant program
Outline for your narrative
Evaluation criteria judges will use to select the programs that are funded
Forms and assurances (that the organization practices equal opportunity or has an environmental policy, for instance)
Listing of State Single Points of Contact, when contact with them is required
Instructions for forms
Instructions for appendices
Mailing instructions and addresses
Sometimes the booklet also includes frequently asked questions and responses and/or government contact information so that you may ask questions by e-mail or telephone.
More often, you can download RFPs from the department's Web site. However, the package is not complete as a single downloadable file. You must download the RFP (usually listed by program title) and the forms (usually called “application package”) separately. You also may choose whether or not you want to download additional pieces of information, such as frequently asked questions or other background information.
Over the past few years, the federal government has developed Grants. gov, which in some ways makes access easier and in some ways makes it more difficult. It is easier now to get notices of funding and to search all departments through the search engine at Grants.gov. However, now grantseeking organizations must preapply for access to the complete RFP package, a process that sometimes takes several weeks. Also, different departments are limiting applications for some programs to online submission only.
Register your nonprofit organization with Grants.gov even if you don't think you'll be applying for a grant in the coming year. When you do find a grant opportunity, this will be one time-consuming hurdle out of the way.
The time will certainly come, likely in the next few years, when paper submissions for federal funding will be obsolete. The online submission process requires you to open, close, complete, and submit a dozen or more different documents and can be confusing and time consuming. Be sure to plan at least a day for uploading, and, to be safe, try to plan this activity for the day before the deadline in case the system goes down.